Japanese short novel translation: ”Sluggish Symbol, Inane Illusion” (緩慢な表象と虚ろな幻想): Chapter 3: “Introduction”

By | September 2, 2016

”Sluggish Symbol, Inane Illusion” is a short novel written by Yuki Fujimura that is published on syosetsu.com, which I enjoyed so much I decided to translate a few chapters into English.

This story takes place in a unique society, where each citizen is legally obligated to write a single book during their lifetime.

You can see more information about this novel including a brief synopsis, my original review, previous translated chapters, and the original Japanese chapters at this table of contents page.

Chapter 3: Introduction

When I was with Saki, staying unnoticed was nearly impossible.
Her good looks inherently attracted attention. On my own, my presence was the equivalent of a heavily diluted Calpico soft drink, whereas adding her to the mix resulted in a layer of undiluted flavor floating at the top.
When Saki was with me–a normal guy who lacked any special talents–she stood out even more. I was so embarrassed that I wanted to walk a few steps apart from her on the way to our destination; or even better, I could just meet her there.
This all went through my head as she led me to a small restaurant.

The building’s red brick walls crawled with vines, and stained glass lined the inset windows.
Lunchtime was over, and the restaurant seemed to be shut down for a few hours until dinnertime. On the door hung a “Closed” sign.
Saki pushed opened the door without a moment’s hesitation, causing the sign to sway back and forth.
I couldn’t help but ask.
“Are you sure it’s safe to barge in like this?”
“It’s not like it’s my first time.”
This didn’t quite answer my question.
Come to think of it, if the restaurant didn’t want people coming in, they’d probably lock their door. Since they hadn’t, I guess she was allowed to enter. After all, beautiful women always get special treatment.
But if there was some special reason they didn’t lock their door, I’d really feel bad for the restaurant.
As I was thinking this, Saki added,
“If it was locked, I’d just break down the door.”
“Then I’d really feel bad for the restaurant.”
“It’s OK. That’s what this place is for.”
“I don’t think it’s OK to do this sort of thing.”
But Saki just ignored my logical argument. It seemed like whenever I was with her, I was made to say unnecessary things. How terribly unpleasant.

Since the restaurant was not in operation now, it was pretty dark inside.
There were four larger tables that sat four people each, and three smaller tables that sat two, arranged with ample space between them.
For a moment I thought a waitress might come to greet us. But no, that wasn’t going to happen.
Saki chose the smaller table farthest from the door, inviting me to a chair that was positioned in a deep nook in the wall.
With a practiced hand she switched on the desk lamp there.
…But why would there be a desk lamp on a table in a restaurant, anyway?
Sitting on a table with a desk lamp between us brought to mind an interrogation room. Perhaps this was a special table for eating pork cutlet rice bowls, since the detectives often gave those to suspects during questioning in old TV police dramas.

“The table is used for book reading,”
Saki said, as if reading my mind yet again.
She sat down in the seat farthest from the wall as if she’d been there many times before. Then she motioned to me to take the opposing seat.
I had so many things to say, but I simply complied with her request and sat down.
“So, I guess I’ll start reading the manuscript you showed me before.”
“Aren’t you going to order a drink or anything?”
“There is no waitress here, and this may in fact be considered unlawful entry.”
“If you want coffee, there is a machine over there.”
She pointed out a drip coffee machine of the kind you typically see at family restaurant drink bars.
I nodded, walked up to the machine, and poured coffee for two. When I returned to the table, I put one of the cups in front of her.
Gazing at the steaming cup of coffee, she spoke.
“When we get arrested for illegal entry, I wonder if the severity of our crime will be affected by whether or not we stole food or drinks.”
“If this is actually illegal entry, I wish you would have told me before I made coffee.”
“It’s just a joke. This restaurant rents out its space for book writing during non-business hours. I’m the one currently assigned.”
“Currently assigned?”
“They rent out to one person at a time. Nobody else will come until I’m finished writing.”
This sounded a little strange to me, but the dim inside of this restaurant was somehow a perfect fit for her, and this was enough to make me think she might be telling the truth.
Saki suddenly turned her gaze toward the nearby wall.
On a built-in bookshelf was a jumble of books with various titles and bindings.
When I found a book on it with a familiar title, I instinctively reached out for it.
“This is ‘Memories traced by a corpse’…”
“Yeah, I read it myself, when I was in middle school.”
I almost said, “That’s the same time I read it,” but held my tongue.
So on that day in class she had already known about the book. She knew, but kept quiet about it. I was questioned about a book from someone who was already familiar with it.
The thought of this was enough to turn my face red with humiliation. I was thankful the interior of the restaurant was so dark.
It was also fortunate Saki wasn’t looking at me. She was still glaring at the books lining the wall.

“There’s one thing in common with all these books.”
“That they all have been written here?”
“That’s also true.”
“There’s something else?”
“You’ll understand eventually–If you read my book, that is.”
She removed the report paper from her bag and handed it to me.

“You can start with this.”
“I’d be honored.”

I began to read the manuscript.
I wasn’t used to reading horizontal script, but her writing possessed a special power that made me quickly forget that.
I came to a description of the main character standing upon a grassy field. I turned a page, read some more description, then turned a another page––––

“The intro is really long.”

Wow…Including the first page she’d given me, there was about 5,000 words just to describe the scenery. This was long. Too long. So this is what a 3,500 page book is like.
She even went as far as describing the kinds of grass and other plants growing on the field. But is that really necessary? She’s so good at writing such extraneous description, but that makes it all the more tiresome to read.
Saki responded to my comment with a blank look.

“Why do you think so? It’s only less than 0.1% of the entire book.”
“It’s not a question of percentage…I hope that writing a 3,500 page book doesn’t mean you are making the descriptions ten times more detailed than normal.”
“But aren’t you curious about all the plantlife that the main character is walking through?”
“If the main character was a plant biologist I would understand, but…”
“He isn’t going to study biology.”
“Then you don’t need that level of detail!”

What is this girl thinking? She’s never going to get to the main story line.
Being that this was a manuscript, I was even more uncomfortable having no idea where the story was going to go.
However, she responded to my criticism once again with a disapproving grimace.
“Why do you think it’s unnecessary?”
“…Because it’s not relevant to the story.”
“But this is where the story takes place. There is no such thing as irrelevant information, right?”
“That’s where you are wrong.”

I made this declaration despite the fact that I couldn’t make up my own mind.
I haven’t written my own book yet. Thats why my feedback comes from the point of view of a reader.
But at the same time, it’s also from the point of view of someone who will be an author someday. When it comes to books, everyone is on equal grounds here.

“The more information you give, the harder it is for the reader to decide what information is important. If you aren’t careful, it will be hard for the reader to follow the story and get absorbed in your book.”
“But it’s up to the reader to decide the importance of information, right? A book where every sentence contains only necessary information is nothing but a puzzle.”
“You have a point, but it’s a matter of degree.”

I guess you could say it’s up to the author to strike the proper balance here, but Saki was a bit on the extreme side.
After considering the best way to get my point across, I gave it another try.

“If you ask too much of the reader, they’ll won’t be able to even finish your book. They’ll end up quitting a few pages through the introduction.”
By forcing everyone to write a book, the overall quality of published works cannot be maintained.
These days, a book is valued by the quality of it’s introduction. Gone are the times when there was a guarantee a book was published because someone liked it.
But Saki responded to my well-thought criticism with a grin.

“Even though this is my one and only book?”

…If she is going to take that stance, we’re not going to get anywhere.
Each of us is only permitted a single book. That’s it. Saving something for a future book is not an option.
To put it bluntly––––what people think of a book after it is published is, for the most part, irrelevant.
With the enormous number of books published each month, those released in the previous month are quickly overshadowed by the new releases.
Each day we are inundated with so many books, stopping to pick up one and read it is practically a meaningless endeavor.
That’s because regardless of demand, that author will never publish another book.

Given this, a person has no choice but to put their entire heart and soul into their one and only book.

I sighed and looked Saki right in the eyes.

“Nevertheless, I want you to fix it.”
“You’re asking me to compromise my principles?”
“Yes. Otherwise the quality of the work will suffer.”

It she wants to write a book just for the purpose of self-satisfaction, she should do it alone in a private room.
There’s no need to show it to me. After she writes whatever she likes, she can just show it to her fans.
They’d probably love her book regardless of what she wrote.
But you can count me out.

Saki continued to stare at me as the silence stretched on.
I wonder if this is what she meant by her first condition of “reading the book in front of her”. How terribly awkward this is. Saki’s facial expression remained calm no matter how long I stared at her.
Saki began speaking slowly, with a soft voice.

“I guess maybe it would be more interesting if I cut it down some.”
“Yes, I think so.”

Saki agreeing so easily made me feel as if she’d somehow side-stepped the issue.
She mumbled while writing in red ink on the report paper I’d returned to her.

“You know, I only write what I personally think is interesting.”
“And what you think is interesting.”
“Why me?”
“Therefore, I couldn’t care less if not even a single other person in the universe didn’t like my book.”
“You’re kidding, right?”

Does this mean that if Saki’s book is not well received, the blame fall on me, the proofreader?!
It’s not like I care, but something about this didn’t sit well with me. Saki shook her head.

I’m the one who decided to write that kind of stuff.”

It might have been my imagination, but somewhere within her dignified voice I thought I detected a hint of indifference.
I felt a chill, and brought my coffee cup to my lips.
When I lowered my gaze, I could just picture the swaying grasses of her world in bright, vivid colors.

=== End Chapter 3 ===

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