In brief: The story of four flatmates living in Tokyo and the boy who appears on their couch one night.
The good: Excellent translation by Philip Gabriel gives the narrative a haunting, unsettling edge.
The not-so-good: Not high on action.
Pages: 240 (English translation)
Publisher: Random House (Harvill Secker/Vintage Publishing)
My rating: 9.5 out of 10
Parade is the kind of book my friends would say is stereotypical of my reading habits – ‘set in Japan, not much happens and then it gets all weird’. While I wouldn’t say that Parade is ‘all weird’, there are a few kooky and creepy revelations in a novel that is character driven, rather than by plot. I love this kind of book, especially when it’s set in Japan. I don’t know why, but a big Japanese city location with characters that are fighting their inner demons is the makings of a great story for me. I think Japanese novels (this book has been translated into English by Philip Gabriel) and their characters open themselves more completely to the reader, revealing both the positive and negative sides of a person. It’s refreshingly honest.
Parade is centred on four occupants of an apartment in Tokyo. All are young and all have problems of their own to face. The flatmates, two boys and two girls, hang out quite a lot in between work and study. They are quite different, but appear to get on well together. Each chapter is told from the third person perspective of one of the flatmates. First is Ryosuke, who is studying in Tokyo to try to make something of himself. He’s not really enthused about university, more about his increasing affection for his older friend’s girlfriend and whether he should make a play for her. Then there’s Kotomi, who left a good job in Sapporo after realising that she’s not happy. Now she sits on the couch in the flat waiting for her college sweetheart (an up and coming actor) to call, day in, day out. Mirai is an artist on the weekend, a store manager by day and heavy drinker at night. Unknown to her, it’s Mirai that brings Satoru home one drunken night. Satoru’s young and works by night in the park – but what does he do? Nobody really knows much about him (and Satoru tells them all different stories), but all the flatmates are eager to help him out. Finally, there’s Naoki, the eldest and original occupant of the flat. He’s got an on/off girlfriend, a great job and a secret. Eventually, this group will find out they do more than share an apartment…
I really liked the way we got to know each character in detail from ‘their’ chapter. Yoshida also gently introduces more about the next character to come, so by the time I got to Naoki’s chapter (the last one), I felt like I knew him. The characters are all quite dissimilar, but each has something you can identify with, such as Ryosuke’s determination to please his parents or Kotomi’s search for happiness. Due to their ages (late teens to late twenties), there are also plenty of activities that you can identify with (both good and bad): excessive drinking, lazing away, films and TV. Kotomi’s age and naivety also assist in establishing that there’s something weird going on in the apartment next door, where men enter and schoolgirls exit, crying. This subplot is both creepy and amusing, which gets the flatmates completely unsettled, missing the bigger picture.
You may be thinking that all the flatmates sound like cosy, good friends but it’s Satoru, the outsider who identifies that they’re not – more ‘playing at friends’. Dig deeper and you find that each person is hiding something from the others, trying to keep something hidden in a place where there’s very little privacy. Some of the flatmates do it better than others – but can they hide their true selves?
I can’t say that I saw the ending coming at all, but the reaction of the group was very interesting. Given their jumpiness over the apartment next door and its possible activities, their reaction to a crime was almost non-existent – passive and accepting. Is this a reflection on young people today not caring about society or self-absorption? Is it a comment on the changing face of Japan, a society that thinks of the group before the individual?
I found this book fascinating for what it revealed about these characters and about society in general. With that slight sense of uneasiness, it was a perfect read for me.