Ms Ice Sandwich by Mieko Kawakami (transl. Louise Heal Kawai): In the eye of the beholder

Mieko Kawakami is one of Haruki Murakami’s favourite young writers which made her novella hard to resist for me. Ms Ice Sandwich is the latest in a series published by Pushkin Press showcasing Japanese authors. I’ve only got around to reviewing one other– Hiromi Kawakami’s surreal Record of a Night Too Brief – which leaves four more to explore.

Our unnamed narrator is just at the point where his classmates are beginning to giggle and gossip about sex, making him feel uncomfortable. He counts his way along the white line leading to the supermarket where he’s bought two egg sandwiches every day of the summer holidays from a taciturn young woman with enormous eyes and a taste for electric blue eye shadow. Those eyes fascinate him, triggering a memory of the dogs in the story his mother once read him to send him to sleep, or perhaps it was his father. His mother pays him little attention now, too caught up in her own preoccupations. Instead, he tells his ailing grandmother all about Ms Ice Sandwich, spending his evenings perfecting her portrait. When he hears his classmates ridiculing her he stops his daily purchases, puzzled by their description of her as a freak, until his friend Tutti persuades him to pay one more visit before he misses the chance of seeing Ms Ice Sandwich ever again.

Child narrators are extraordinarily tricky to pull off but Kawakami does it beautifully in this funny, touching story. Our endearingly thoughtful narrator spends a good deal of his time in a state of puzzlement at the behaviour of other people from which we readers can infer a great deal: his widowed mother has lost herself in tarot readings and astrology; motherless Tutti spends her evenings watching violent films with her dad. His befuddlement is neatly balanced by the mature, clear-eyed Tutti who ultimately saves the day. Kawakami’s brief novella ends poignantly but on a note of hope for both of them.

This is my last review for 2017 – although not my last post – and it’s a rather lovely one with which to round off the year. This year’s blogging has been much more about books from small presses than previous ones. I’ve long felt that independent publishers offer more interesting reading than the conglomerates, something which seems to be increasingly true, at least for me.

To those of you looking forward to Christmas, I hope you have a lovely time. If, as it is for many, it’s a more complicated time of the year for you, I hope it passes as painlessly as possible. And for those of you in retail or catering who’ve been working your socks off – I hope you get some rest before you start all over again.

8 thoughts on “Ms Ice Sandwich by Mieko Kawakami (transl. Louise Heal Kawai): In the eye of the beholder”

  1. I love the variety of wishes you’ve included there: something for everybody! (Also, this book sounds delightful and I share your commitment to indie presses.)

    1. Hoping to cover all the bases! Indies take more risks and so publish more interesting books as a result, don’t they. The conglomerates tend to continue ploughing the same old furrow.

  2. Record of a Night So Brief is the only one in the series I’ve read (I loved it). This sounds very different, but they do strike me as a great way to get to know new Japanese authors.

    1. I was taken aback by Record of a Night So Brief at first – so different from both Strange Weather in Tokyo and The Nakano Thrift Shop – but it grew on me. And I agree, a great way to explore new Japanese writing.

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