Weathering the weather
***SPOILER ALERT***Strange weather in Tokyo (previously published, possibly in a shorter form, as The briefcase (Sensei no kaban)) by Hiromi Kawakami is an enchanting read. At one level it's a simple, sometimes moving, romance. It's also the story of the development of a friendship; and a human tale dealing with loss. It's beautifully written, poignant, funny, and completely engrossing.
Tsukiko, a single woman in her '30s, bumps into her old school teacher, Matsumoto, in a bar in Tokyo. The two start chatting, and strike up an unlikely friendship which slowly blossoms into love. The novel follows Tsukiko and Sensei ("Teacher") through the brief time they have together - arguments about which baseball team to support, mushroom hunting in the mountains, a vacation on an island which has an unfortunate conclusion, through illness and loss, laughter and everyday life.
It's one of those novels that's quite hard to describe. Nothing much happens in it, and yet for the characters what happens is both life-changing and life-affirming. It's such a gentle tale, told with great humour and love. It's not surprising that it was nominated for the Man Asian literary prize in 2013. It's also not a surprise that it didn't win, as it's probably not a meaty-enough read for that sort of a prize; but it will remain in the heart and memory long after more substantial reads have faded away.
Kawakami has a great eye for the detail of everyday life, she picks up on the ordinary like a Jane Austen or a Barbara Pym. This was a delightful read, and despite the ending (which wasn't altogether unexpected), it is incredibly happy. It is a romance, but it's rather more than that. Perhaps more than anything it affirms the importance of friends and the place they hold in our lives. It's a wonderful celebration of day-to-day life, and a new addition to my list of chicken-soup-for-the-soul books.