FABER £9.99 (194pp) (free p&p) from 0870 079 8897
In Search of a Distant Voice, by Taichi Yamada, trans Michael Emmerich
A ghost in the state's machine
Friday 26 May 2006
How can the supernatural story sneak back into realistic literature? Since the ghostly tales of Henry James a century ago, the best answer has involved plots that straddle the hazy border between mental disturbance and uncanny events that somehow resist reduction to the level of delusion. The disquieting suggestion that it's not - quite - all in the mind may linger, for rationalist readers, like grit in the shoe of the soul.
Taichi Yamada from Japan - where ghostly fictions still flourish - excels at this dual perspective. Just as haunting, and haunted, as his novel Strangers, In Search of a Distant Voice presents another fragile loner whose hallucinations - auditory rather than visual, this time - clearly stem from a troubled past. But a dark margin lurks beyond any psychiatric diagnosis, and on that margin Yamada spins his eerie magic.
Topically enough, this is a novel with an immigration officer at its centre. Tsuneo, once a rebellious drifter on the US Pacific Coast before his return to Tokyo and respectability, enforces border controls - both in his public and private life. He rounds up paper-less South Asian workers even though he feels pangs of sympathy with them. Then, while chasing some Bangladeshis, he hears a woman's disembodied voice and feels "a gush of delicious sweetness".
Who, or what, is she? His conversations with this teasing, tempting spirit lead Tsuneo back to the trauma of his time in Oregon, and memories of a gay affair with an antiques dealer whom the guilty migrant (then an "illegal" himself) had betrayed. Simply but deftly, Yamada shows how this divided man's struggle to police his feelings links with Japan's "extraordinarily narrow" way of life. Tsuneo wrecks his marriage plans but fails to grasp the freedom he half-craves, and half-dreads.
That sweet voice brings the return of the repressed, but also speaks of a very Japanese melancholy, as if desire must always slip out of human reach. When the voice offers to meet in fleshly form, she - or it - forever recedes behind the next corner, the next tree... However one interprets this fugitive spirit, Yamada counts the cost of neurotic gate-keeping - in the self, and the state - with a subtle sadness. Amid the "unremarkable bustle" of the well-patrolled city, we may drop into "stagnant pools of inconceivably intense solitude". From those pools, ghosts arise.
Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Marijuana use by teenagers does not result in a lower IQ or worse exam results, study finds
- 2 Watch what happened when food critics were unknowingly served McDonald's
- 3 Jimmy Carr's controversial Oscar Pistorius joke goes too far at the Q Awards
- 4 Australian café owner sparks debate after saying 'No' to having unruly children on premises
- 5 NHS staff banned from drinking tea or coffee on the job because it looks like they're not working hard enough
MOBO Awards 2014: Jess Glynne hits back at 'ridiculous' criticism of nominated white artists
American Horror Story season 4, Fox - review: Silly, sensational and sensitive
The Apprentice 2014: Nurun Ahmed and Lindsay Booth fired in double elimination
MOBO Awards 2014: Sam Smith sweeps the board with four gongs
The Apprentice, episode 3 - review: Lord Sugar hacks away at the deadwood with double elimination
Of course, teenage girls need role models – but not like beauty vlogger Zoella
Cameron is warned 'no possibility' of UK reducing immigration and that bid to bring in quota on migrant workers would be illegal
Support for EU membership 'at highest level since 1991' with most Brits wanting to stay 'in'
Thousands with degenerative conditions classified as 'fit to work in future' – despite no possibility of improvement
Residents should throw a street party and mix with immigrant neighbours, councils told
Russell Brand threatened with arrest after filming outside Fox News headquarters