I’d not read any Japanese fiction for quite some time when I spotted Hiroko Oyamada’s eye-catchingly titled Weasels in the Attic on NetGalley and liked the sound of it. Billed as a novel, it reads more like closely linked short stories in which a middle-aged man recounts three separate meals shared with his best friend, each momentous in its own way.
Our unnamed narrator is surprised to get a call from Saiki about the death of a mutual friend, more Saiki’s than his. Urabe was the child of a family rich enough to indulge his passion, setting him up with his own shop selling tropical fish. Our narrator recalls a strange evening when they’d visited Urabe, still living in the shop long since closed down, and were introduced to his new baby and her surprisingly young mother who seemed too eager to do Urabe’s bidding. Sometime later, now married to Yoko and living in a rackety house in the countryside infested with weasels, Saiki invites our narrator to dinner with his wife who comes up with a disturbing solution to the weasel problem and makes a new friend. The third dinner sees Saiki and Yoko introducing their new daughter to our narrator and his wife who find themselves snowed in, staying a restless night in an aquarium filled room, haunted by strange dreams. The next day our narrator is told news so good he can scarcely believe it.
We like to tell ourselves it’s love, that we’re choosing our partners. But in reality we’re just playing the cards we’ve been dealt
Weighing in at a mere eighty pages with a good deal of white space included, Weasels in the Attic is the shortest book I’ve read in quite a while but it makes up for that with its striking images. Oyamada contrasts the new and old Japan, ageing, attitudes to women and masculinity through three occasions which see Saiki change from an urban male, none too inquiring about Urabe’s relationship with a subservient woman two decades his junior, to a considerate husband, father and neighbour. Meanwhile our narrator and his wife quietly struggle with the aching sadness of involuntary childlessness. Much is left unsaid between Saiki and the narrator who seems often puzzled by his friend’s behaviour while his wife and Yoko become close friends, almost without him realising it. I enjoyed these understated stories with their touch of the surreal and occasional flashes of humour. Keen to read more by Oyamda who I see has two other titles to explore.
Granta Books: London 9781783789757 80 pages Hardback (read via Netgalley)