• Matt O'Connell

Living without Closure: The Influence of Japanese Novelists


Bamboo forest in Kyoto

My latest novel, The Spirit of the Fox takes place in Japan. I've tried to share some of Japanese culture in the book, and also tried to write it in a way that would be a bit more Japanese, at least from a stylistic perspective. Ever since I was a student in Tokyo in 1985 and started reading classical Japanese authors like Natsumi Soseki, and Yasunari Kawabata, Japanese writers have significantly influenced not only my style of writing, but also my reading preferences.


Japanese novelists tend to have a more ethereal nature to the way they write. What do I mean by "ethereal"? To me, it's dreamlike, delicate and refined. When you read Haruki Murakami (which you definitely should!), Yukio Mishima, and even crime novelists like Keigo Higashino, you get a feeling that you are floating through the story. There's an ambient quality to their work that, with notable exceptions, I find hard to compare to novelists in the West. They have much subtler arcs and when you finish the book it often seems like you must be missing a couple of chapters because it could have kept going on. I found that to be especially true in Kawabata's masterpiece, Snow Country. It's a beautiful, haunting love story with no clear beginning or end, that you just sort of drift through, and yet it moves you profoundly. It's an elegant novel that I would recommend to anyone interested in Japanese literature.


Japanese authors seem to be much more open to allowing a lack of closure to exist, which can be very frustrating to a lot of readers, but also wonderful in so many ways. Life itself lacks closure. Life continues; it flows. Yesterday may be over and tomorrow isn't here yet but those are just arbitrary demarcations we have imposed upon something, i.e. time, that is continuous and flowing. We tend to impose closure and structure because we have a need to make sense of things. Eastern cultures, and Japanese in particular, don't impose that need as much as we do in the West.





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