Rereading Kawabata

The publication histories of both A Thousand Cranes and Sound of the Mountain resemble the erratic, scattered pattern Kawabata set with Snow Country, though they do not stretch over as long a period of time or undergo as many major revisions. But the technique of evolving narration–with one segment suggesting, through the “remnant of feeling” that lingered within Kawabata’s mind, how yet another moment in the lives of his characters could follow that which preceded–had become a key pattern for Kawabata’s writing. […] suggesting that they should not be called novels at all, but rather, perhaps, linked prose. The essentially fluid nature of Kawabata’s fiction made it possible for him to say that many of his works could end at any point, and that specific chapters could easily be deleted.

Gessel, Van C. Three Modern Novelists: Soseki, Tanizaki, Kawabata. Kodansha. 1993. 183-4.

I’ve been reading Japanese literature for the past week or so. After some Akutagawa stories and Tanizaki’s Some Prefer Nettles, I ended up back at my favorite Japanese author, Kawabata Yasunari, having, in the past week, read three of his novels–two (Snow Country and Sound of the Mountain) for the second or third time and one (The Old City) for the first time–as well as the brief biography I quote from above. That quote and the associated text about the long writing and publication history of some of his works struck me for its confirmation of something I’ve felt about those works.

Sound of the Mountain, my favorite of his works, has always felt to me like a strange mixture of short story and novel. While the same characters appear across the whole book (an old man and his family) and certain situations/storylines run their way through the whole book, the chapters often read like single units or serializations. Plot points are often re-explained in a way that the reader of the work as a single book would not need, and in the end one gets little in the way of resolution. What I learned from the biography gave me concrete evidence for this feeling. That narrative inconclusiveness and general lack of an overarching, traditional plot structure is one thing that really attracts me to Kawabata’s work (at least his longer works).

Another element of his style which attracts me is the elliptical haiku-esque nature of his writing. Kawabata leaves much unsaid, only hinted at, a style that often echoes the reserved and often socially awkward characters.

A recent link back here to my review of Yokohama Kaidaishi Kikou got me thinking about it’s very classic Japanese style similar in some ways to Kawabata’s work. And now, I realize, I already posted about this in the post about Sound of the Mountain that I wrote on my second reading of it almost exactly two years ago (odd how that happened). So I will now refer you back to both of those posts (sometimes I’m even surprised at what I find in the archives).