I think I’ve mentioned before that when I take a trip abroad, I like to read a book set in the country I am visiting or at least written by an author from that part of the world.
When I bought Yukio Mishima‘s After the Banquet, last month I had no idea I would shortly be on my way to Japan. I had bought it while meandering through the shelves of Blackwell’s in Oxford, purely on the basis that I had read little by Japanese authors beyond Kazuo Ishiguro. But it proved the perfect companion for my unexpected trip; not only was it a well-written thoughtful novel about a relationship between two people who want different things in life, but it introduced me to facets of life in the city I was visiting. Tokyo has changed considerably of course in the fifty or so years since the book’s setting but many of the cultural references are still valid. So as I read the minute details about clothing and food that Mishima provides, I was able to ask some work colleagues for explanations and to see some of the items of clothing on sale in local shops. It seems After the Banquet is atypical of Mishima’s work but on the basis of this one book, I will be back for more.
If Mishima’s novel was an unexpected delight so also were two other books I’ve read in December: The Reluctant Fundamentalist by the Pakistani author Mohsin Hamid and John Steinbeck‘s 1945 novel Cannery Row. I loved the direct style of the narrator in Hamid’s book and the somewhat mysterious nature of his meeting with an American visitor at a cafe in Lahore.
Steinbeck was someone I did not expect to enjoy but this story about a motley collection of individuals who live on a street lined with sardine canneries in Monteray, California, was something remarkable. I read it after listening to the author Bill Patterson talk on a book podcast about this being his favourite novel and one he re-reads almost yearly. I had expected it to be somewhat doom and gloom post depression stuff so was completely unprepared for its warmth and humour. I can see why Patterson loves it so much.
So what’s next in the final few weeks of the year?
I’ll be reading Graham Greene’s The Power and The Glory for the Classics Club spin a long and also dipping into Alice Munro’s Dear Life collection of short stories which is January’s book club selection.
What will you all be reading in the next few weeks?