Review: The Lake by Banana Yoshimoto



A major literary sensation is back with a quietly stunning tour de force about a young woman who falls for a cult escapee.

While The Lake shows off many of the features that have made Banana Yoshimoto famous—a cast of vivid and quirky characters, simple yet nuanced prose, a tight plot with an upbeat pace—it’s also one of the most darkly mysterious books she’s ever written.

It tells the tale of a young woman who moves to Tokyo after the death of her mother, hoping to get over her grief and start a career as a graphic artist. She finds herself spending too much time staring out her window, though … until she realizes she’s gotten used to seeing a young man across the street staring out his window, too.

They eventually embark on a hesitant romance, until she learns that he has been the victim of some form of childhood trauma. Visiting two of his friends who live a monastic life beside a beautiful lake, she begins to piece together a series of clues that lead her to suspect his experience may have had something to do with a bizarre religious cult. . . .

With its echoes of the infamous, real-life Aum Shinrikyo cult (the group that released poison gas in the Tokyo subway system), The Lake unfolds as the most powerful novel Banana Yoshimoto has written. And as the two young lovers overcome their troubled past to discover hope in the beautiful solitude of the lake in the countryside, it’s also one of her most moving.

My Review:

Originally written in Japanese by author, Banana Yoshimoto, this story is about two very different people struggling to overcome the grief and isolation they both feel.  I was most intrigued by the tone of this book, as it was in a somber tone throughout.  However, there are moments where each character experiences some slither of happiness.  Chihiro is a graphic artist who moves to Tokyo to establish her career after the death of her mother.  Being alone, she often finds herself staring outside her window.  It is only later that she realizes someone is staring back.  Both of them begin to rely on seeing one another through the window and soon their small smiles and head tilts become their way of acknowledging each other.  Over time, they both look forward to mouthing “hello” to one another each day.  Chihiro and  Nakajima finally meet with their relationship becoming more intimate as they realize how dependent they are on each other.  Both are loners, yet through their relationship, they both come to realize how valuable they are to one another and how empty their world would be without the other person.  Banana Yoshimoto brings to life this relationship that is very fragile and certainly brings codependency to whole other level.  Throughout the story, it seems as if they are both holding onto each other as if walking on a tightrope.  It’s quite fascinating the way they both come to depend on each other with very little communication.  Translated to English, it is quite possible that some of the language is lost to describe this relationship.  Nonetheless, it was a good book.

  * This book was provided by Netgalley for an honest review.