In brief: Someone is watching the woman in the purple skirt. At first, it seems to be helping her but as the woman thrives, things take a nasty turn…
The good: Light and easy to read.
The not-so-good: It’s a little bit aimless in terms of plot.
Why I chose it: I love Japanese fiction. Thanks to Allen & Unwin for the copy.
Year: 2021 (2019 in the original Japanese)
Translator: Lucy North
Publisher: Faber & Faber (Allen & Unwin)
Setting: Unnamed town in Japan
Rating: 7.5 out of 10
The Woman in the Purple Skirt is a difficult novel to pin down to a genre. It’s not quite literary noir, nor domestic suspense or even a work-based novel. It has elements of all of these. To try to sum it up, it’s a domestic, everyday story that starts off by being a little odd and lonely; then gets quite creepy towards the end.
The story about the woman in the purple skirt is narrated in the first person by a person who calls herself the woman in the yellow cardigan. The narrator reveals little about herself until the end of the story, and it’s not quite clear how or why she got herself into the predicament. The narrator lives locally to the woman in the purple skirt and notices that she doesn’t seem to hold down a job for very long and that her one enjoyment seems to be eating a cream bun in the local park. Even the local children have devised a game about the woman in the purple skirt, and it’s not kind. The narrator’s motivation at first seems to be to look out for the woman in the purple skirt in her daily life, but then she starts to intervene. At first it’s small things like trying to get her to use a particular shampoo, but then it’s trying to get the woman in the purple skirt to work at the same place as the narrator. At work, the woman in the purple skirt really starts to shine. The narrator doesn’t like this, and soon the workplace is full of gossip about the woman in the purple skirt’s love life and work ethic. It all comes to a head when an employee is suspected of stealing, with a most unlikely outcome. Here, the narrator tries to save the day, but does she really?
It’s never quite clear what the intentions of the narrator are towards the woman in the purple skirt. Is it friendship – both seem lonely initially – or is it an obsession on the narrator’s part that grows and grows? As the story continues, the reader starts to feel increasingly uncomfortable about the narrator’s motives as they become more intrusive to the point of sabotage. It’s left to the reader to try to determine everyone’s motives but there weren’t any strong clues for me. I do wonder whether the woman in the purple skirt was as helpless and alienated as the narrator made her out to be, and how much of the final scene was in the narrator’s head and how much was true. It’s easy to read, and quite a quick read too, but I think reading it more slowly gave me time to ponder over everyone’s motives and rationale for acting the way they did. The narrator hints at a lack of money and her workplace being one of high turnover and it made me wonder how many women she has treated this way.
If you like your reads to leave you wondering, The Woman in the Purple Skirt is a great novel of obsession to the point of destruction.