Four Seasons in Japan by Nick Bradley: ‘Keep going. You can do it.’

Cover image for Four Seasons in Japan by Nick BradleyI very much enjoyed Nick Bradley’s The Cat and the City, its distinctive feline striding through the lives of a disparate set of Tokyoites, which made me keen to read Four Seasons in Japan. Similarly cleverly structured, Bradley’s second novel sees a young translator whose appetite for life is ebbing away, becoming captivated by an abandoned book she finds on the subway.

She felt closer to Ayako and Kyo then she did to anyone in real life right now – they were always there for her, waiting on the page. Dependable.

When her girlfriend announced she was leaving Tokyo for New York, Flo had already slipped into a depression, cast down by her struggles to be recognised as a translator. She’s not expecting much when she picks up Sound of Water one evening after a rare night out with friends but finds herself transported by this story of a young man sent to live with the grandmother he barely knows when he fails his medical exams. When her editor shares her enthusiasm, she’s determined to find the author, a challenge given how little she has to go on. Translating this book has become her passion, all the more so as each section unfolds this story of a difficult relationship between Ayako, whose own passion for the mountains shaped her life, and the grandson whose artistic talent reminds her of her son who took his own life. By the end of his year with Ayako, Kyo must make a decision about his future.

Sometimes, as she viewed these snow-capped mountains in the distance, she heard the low sound of the mountain calling, trying to coax her from her peaceful daily routine, but she ignored that sound, despite its strong pull, and carried on making her way to work.  

Bradley is a dab hand at intricately structuring novels as the cleverly interlocking narratives of The Cat and the City made clear. Four Seasons in Japan is a novel within a novel with a third story woven through, a tricky device which he handles beautifully.  A poignant coming-of-age story, Sound of Water is the major narrative in which Ayako, stubborn to the point of obduracy, is determined that Kyo does the right thing while struggling with her own sadness and guilt at her son’s suicide. Kyo looks down his nose at the country bumpkins of Onomichi, finding himself won over by their warmth, acceptance and encouragement of his talent. These two both come to know each other and themselves as the year of Kyo’s study unfolds, some of their story mirroring Flo’s own difficulties. And, of course, there are cats: the one-eyed Coltrane appears in the charming illustrations which introduce each of Sound of Water’s four seasons, looking every bit the insouciant gentleman. Some readers might recognise Flo from Bradley’s debut. Her reappearance made me wonder if he might have plans to pick up other characters. I’d be more than happy if he did.

Doubleday: London 9780857529343 336 pages Hardback (read via NetGalley)

24 thoughts on “Four Seasons in Japan by Nick Bradley: ‘Keep going. You can do it.’”

  1. I already had The Cat in the City on my TBR and looks like this one’s going on too. Someone on one of my Goodreads groups mentioned the other day that Bradley did his PhD on cats in Japanese literature!

  2. This is my next read and I’d been holding off reading your review until I started, in case there was anything that put me off. Glad to say there isn’t! I haven’t read any of his books before but the premise off the is intrigued me. I’m please to hear that the framing works, I am looking forward to starting this one now. Thanks

    1. I had wondered if his debut, The Cat and the City, might be a little twee before I read it but that proved to be its marketing rather than the book itself which I heartily recommend.

  3. Pingback: #20BooksofSummer23: how it’s going | biisbooks

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