After struggling to find a good job after graduating college, Ryota hits upon the idea to become a high-rise window cleaner, a dangerous job with poor pay. One of the job’s perks is being able to spy into other people’s lives and see moments that would otherwise be unknown to the rest of the world, soon forgotten by even those involved. One day he cleans the window of a strange apartment with a mysterious old woman that makes eye contact with him, a moment that is especially awkward because he happens to be behaving inappropriately at the time. Ryota eventually ends up visiting the woman in her luxury apartment and receives an unusual request that is arguably illegal, if not immoral.
“百の夜は跳ねて” (which I’ll tentatively translate “Across 100 Nights”) by Noritoshi Furuichi is a fiction novel that came out this year (2019) by Shinchosha. At around 200 pages, it was nominated for the prestigious Akutagawa literary award along with 4 other books (I reviewed the winner that year here). I purchased “Across 100 Nights” in hardcover at Kinokuniya’s store in Oregon, but you can get it on Amazon here, including a Kindle version. You can also find another E-book version here, where there is a sample.
One thing that stood out about this novel is how acutely modern it is. Of course, any novel that has just been released is likely to contain references to modern topics and items, but the author seems to go out of his way to insert things like searching Youtube for a video, or buying a new model of a certain popular camera maker. I actually felt at one or two places the book was trying to advertise products since specific names, model numbers, and even prices were listed. But after finishing the book I think this was more an effort to add a raw, everyday nuance to the book; this is evidenced by other sections like where the main character’s monthly expenses are enumerated in detail (phone, water, internet, etc.), with all the exact costs for each. While this approach will surely make the book feel dated when read decades from now, I think that it will be informative to readers to see how things have changed over time.
The pacing of this book is a little unusual, in the sense that I didn’t really know what was going on in the beginning (or should I say what important was going on), and wasn’t particularly motivated to continue. However, there were a few mysterious things alluded to early in the book that kept my interest enough to keep reading. The mysteries are gradually revealed throughout the novel, which is why I enjoyed the second half much more than the first. The other reason the pacing was a little odd is because there wasn’t that much really going on in terms of major dramatic action except for a few key events. But I think there is something to be said for a novel that focuses more on the character interaction and development of a few ideas as opposed to spoon-feeding the reader a series of contrived plot twists––and perhaps this is a common attribute of serious literature, especially for shorter works like this.
I enjoyed some of the philosophical commentary spaced here and there throughout the story, especially when it was about cities and the meaning of life, although I would have liked to see more pages devoted to this. I wasn’t surprised to find out the author was originally a sociologist (this is his second novel). The philosophical undertone reminded me of another book I read recently (reviewed here), though in that case I felt it was more thought-provoking. These two books had a few other things in common, including the inclusion of a tower, the usage of fairytale-like elements, and the modernness I mentioned above. But I think these things are probably just coincidences.
While “Across 100 Nights” was an enjoyable read, I felt the various disparate (but interesting in their own right) elements could have been woven together a bit tighter. My other main complaint about this book is the inclusion of a seemingly random sex act at a surprising time (it doesn’t involve the older woman). I generally consider my tastes to be pretty diverse and tend to appreciate strange stories with atypical settings, but my taste for sexual content is a bit conservative. Adding sex to a story is fine, but it should be there for an important reason and not just for dramatic effect. In this novel I think the act could have been toned down, making the book more appropriate to a wider audience. Fortunately it was just a single occurrence, so (unlike this book) I was able to get through it.
Because of all the real-world content, I feel that this book is good for those studying Japanese outside of Japan. On the other hand, the reading level is a bit high with some technical terms as well as a significant amount of description. One of the characters uses extra polite speech which can be both informative, yet frustrating for beginning students of Japanese. There weren’t too many unusual kanji used, so knowing the basic set of Joyo kanji should be enough. Also, in a few parts of the text there are transitions within a paragraph requiring a good grasp of tone to comprehend. (I’m being purposefully vague here to avoid what could be considered a story spoiler). On a related note, I liked how the author managed to weave together multiple threads of thought or events at the same time, like when paragraphs of the main character’s thoughts were interspersed with those of another character’s spoken dialogue.
On a final note, the setting of washing widows made for some nice visual descriptions, and a few other places in the book used imagery to good effect, making me think this book might be better appreciated in movie form. If so, I think some editing would be needed to cut out unnecessary content and increase the pace.