The Girl who is Getting Married: Stray thoughts

This novella was recommended by Foyles in a post on Japanese fiction, and I bought it after reading their gushing review. When it arrived, I was surprised by how very short it is; the description on their website has now been updated to read “pamphlet”, but it was initially advertised as a novella.

The Girl Who is Getting Married

Aoko Matsuda, trans. Angus Turvill

It’s difficult to summarise The Girl who is Getting Married, because it’s difficult to grab hold of the plot. It follows a woman who is walking up a spiral staircase to see the eponymous bride before her wedding. As she walks, she thinks back over her relationship to the girl who is getting married, and the reader is invited into several snippets of memory.

This reminded me of Grief is the Thing with Feathers, which I reviewed a little while ago. That is, I think it is probably very clever and important, but I didn’t feel like it wanted to be read by an uneducated pleb like me. The narration shifts and turns with the twists in the staircase, and we never know who the narrator or the girl who is getting married actually are, or what their relationship has been. At times, the narrator and the girl appear to have been close friends, at times distant acquaintances; at times the narrator seems to have been attracted to or perhaps in love with the girl, but sometimes she seems to be her mother, or her daughter; sometimes she seems to be stalking her. There is some indication that she herself might be the girl who is getting married. We hear perhaps a dozen different “first meeting” stories, from schooldays to university to Saturday jobs. Even by the end, I was not sure what was going on–I know a lot of people relish that uncertainty in a book, but I really can’t stand it. The lack of names, for example, meant that I was unable to follow the narration clearly. This was probably the point, but I didn’t enjoy it.

The novella very successfully built up a sense of dread and panic throughout the narration–it is an oppressively claustrophobic book. Perhaps because I didn’t understand the ending, it seemed extremely anticlimactic to me. I did not feel like the anxiety and suspense that had been created was delivered upon. It is entirely possible that someone who was able to follow the narrative more precisely than me would feel differently.

Although I did not personally enjoy this book, I recognise that it is beautifully crafted. The snippets of memory or false memory we see are extremely vivid; the reader is rapidly moved from place to place. It seemed like something I would have been assigned to analyse in a contemporary or surrealist fiction class. It does not feel complete to me because I like clear endings, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad book. Unreliable narrators, uncertainty in text, and general cleverness-that-I-don’t-understand are all very popular and I know a lot of people love them. The haunting atmosphere, the surrealist aspects–they would be a big draw to many people. I am not one of them, but it was very interesting nonetheless.

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5 thoughts on “The Girl who is Getting Married: Stray thoughts

  1. I have read SO MUCH experimental fiction in my days. In college, a creative writing professor introduced me to the world of experimental or “contemporary” fiction. The books all come out from small presses, so no one makes any money, and everyone is really supportive of each other. Here’s the thing. I wanted so badly to be in a community like that that I fell in love with experimental writing. I read so much of it. I took grad classes in which we read experimental writing. And slowly–mainly thanks to starting Grab the Lapels–I realized that I don’t want to read writing that is so obtuse that only the author gets anything out of it. Perhaps some readers will connect. That’s nice. Perhaps a lot of small presses that publish experimental writing will go out like a match. Because they do. And some people will make it to mainstream recognition, like Lidia Yuknavitch. That’s amazing. But as all my networks of writers sent me books to review when I first started GTL, and all those writers wrote experimental fiction, I have to say, I didn’t want to review them anymore. It’s exhausting to try and figure out what’s going on in someone’s head because he/she doesn’t want to say it clearly.

    • “Writing that is so obtuse that only the author gets anything out of it” is a great way to put it. Reading books where you have to constantly reread sentences and paragraphs to try and work out what’s going on is tiring. I’ve been reading lots of quite difficult literary fiction recently–some which I enjoyed but which was hard work, and some like this which I couldn’t follow at all–and I was starting to get a bit down about reading. I then picked up a science fiction novel, which was fast-paced and relatively easy to follow and still beautifully written–and remembered that I actually really like reading! I’d been so lost in meaningful books, none of which I understood the meaning of, that I had forgotten how much fun reading is. So I think I need a break–possibly a permanent break–from experimental fiction.

      • Yeah, I began to feel like I was very stupid, and I come from a “rough” enough background that it’s very easy for me to feel stupid despite my job in academia and the schooling I’ve had. And people who defend experimental fiction don’t always do a great job of being inclusive….I often get the “you just don’t get it and you’re wrong” type of response.

      • Yes–I got a bit disillusioned with the “bookternet” a year or so ago, because I felt like I didn’t like the right type of books and I was just being stupid–lots of the people I was interacting with felt like an exclusive club of people who were much smarter than me and wanted me to know it. However, I switched up who I was following on Twitter and whose blogs I was reading, and my whole experience improved exponentially.

      • I’m so glad! I love my blogging community. I try to stay alert, though. Sometimes I notice bloggers stop reading my posts even though I’m reading all of theirs. I don’t want to be someone’s fan, I want to be people’s blogging friend. It’s hard to do, but I’m glad you’ve kept at it!

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