Two translated novels from Japanese authors – one new, one first published over two decades ago. Here’s what our Balmain bookshop staff are reading this month.

Stella is reading…
Kawakami’s new book

I grabbed a copy of Mieko Kawakami’s latest, All the Lovers of the Night, and found it to be a deliciously weird little book! Unfortunately I haven’t had a ton of time for reading lately, but I was a big fan of her previous novel Breasts and Eggs so I was really keen to give it a go. It’s a bizarre slice of life centring a reclusive proofreader living in Tokyo.

Kawakami really hones in on this detached character as she floats through the teeming city, never seeming to connect with her work or the world around her until a chance encounter with a stranger begins to occupy her mind. I really enjoy Kawakami’s style, always unravelling modern life in a way that feels incisive and strange.

I’ve also been loving Ocean Vuong’s new collection of poems, Time is a Mother. Unlike with his novel On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, I’m determined to take my time with this one! Each poem is a different morsel that I feel like I need to savour and turn over in my head. His voice is so lyrical there are lines that come back to me days after reading them.

Kate is reading…
A newly translated Japanese Orwellian novel

I dearly hope to find more reading time this winter. Autumn has not been a kind month for me in this way – it seems all I read nowadays are emails and WhatsApp messages and targeted ad copy on the social media feeds I scroll through bleary-eyed before bed.

Slim books have therefore lately been my friend. One exceptional read has been The Memory Police, an Orwellian allegory set on a lonely island by Yōko Ogawa, where objects are disappeared along with memories – a natural occurrence, it seems, yet invigilated by a militarised state. Only a few individuals on the island are able to retain their memories – or birds or books, roses or even limbs – and must go undercover to avoid being ‘disappeared’ themselves.

The book was written decades ago, in ’96, but has only recently been translated from Japanese into English. Stephen Snyder has preserved the almost icily spare yet beautiful prose style of the book, which has a haunting or haunted quality – trying to comprehend its meaning is like trying to chase a ghost, or like swimming downwards into a dark pool of uncertain depth. The characters – a young woman, our protagonist and an author herself; her book publisher; an old ferryman before the boats were erased – are drawn with a removed tenderness. There is something so desolate and moving about this book. A very good thing that English readers can experience its mysteries, too.

I’m also currently reading Year of Wonders, a book about the medieval plague by Geraldine Brooks (who coincidentally has a hotly anticipated novel called Horse arriving in June). After that, I am intensely curious to read Grimmish by Michael Winkler, the first self-published book longlisted for the Miles Franklin.