Van has finished reading…The Key by Junichiro Tanizaki

15 Dec

The story is presented through the words of two diaries – those of a fifty-five year old husband and his forty-four year old wife. The thing that attracted me to this book was the cover (the Vintage Blue edition) which carries a simple stylised drawing of a woman removing her kimono. Its simplicity works perfectly, in no way diminishing the beauty of the portrait for want of detail. And it reflects quite perfectly the story you meet between the covers.
Here are two people bound together by marriage, bound by convention, bound by the nature of upbringing, attempting to communicate through the illicit reading of each other’s diaries. What is truth is opaque throughout the story, with both characters claiming awareness of the other’s diary, and claiming they will not read it, always within the pages of their diaries in full expectation the other is going to read it.
Set in Japan in 1947 in a respectable neighbourhood, there is a fine balance, a tension set between old and new, traditional and modern, east and west that could only result in the passing into the shadows of the traditional eastern values under the bright glare of the new west.
There is something deeply sad about this tale. The sense of alienation between the members of the family gives the reader the feeling of being an unwitting voyeur not of the physical but of the emotional life being played out for us. For me that made it hard to like as a reader, though from a craft point of view it’s well worth taking the time.

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