The Lake – Yasunari Kawabata


review by Gabriel

The Lake by Yasunari Kawabata

“I don’t want to drag you down into my world… But be sure to bury deep the things that I’ve drawn out in you.  They might be dangerous.”

This quote is spoken by Gimpei Momoi, the protagonist of Yasunari Kawabata’s darkly moving novel.  It is a quote that could be read to warn of the unconventional perspective of The Lake, which focuses on the taboo and degenerate.

Gimpei is an old man compelled to stalk young women.  Miyako Mizuki is a young woman who seems to draw stalkers to her.  She has given her youth to her elderly lover, the rich Arita.  Her maid schemes to have her younger daughter steal Arita.  Arita is the chairman of the high school attended by Gimpei’s former pupil and lover.  Gimpei begins to stalk a beautiful young school girl, who is a friend of Miyako’s younger brother.

The narrative constantly shifts viewpoints and chronology as it examines the relationship between youth and old age.  This is not done through the well-worn path of familial relationships, but by curiously interwoven lives of the outcast or vulnerable.  Yet while conventional parent-child relationships are largely ancillary to the plot, they are a subtle undercurrent that becomes a conspicuous absence.

Gimpei is a deliberately despicable character, and in general the older characters are parasitic or predatory.  However, none of the central characters are innocent.  By depicting taboo desires or actions, Kawabata blurs conventional morality, just as he blurs the distinction between youth and age.  Gimpei is childlike in his compulsion and self-perceived victimisation, Miyako is world weary and acts as both lover and mother to Arita.

But what does it all add up to?  If there is catharsis, it is as difficult to grasp as a wisp of smoke.  Instead, Kawabata focuses on creating a completely immersive atmosphere that is both hypnotic and suffocating.  The language is concise, as is the novel itself, which is just over 150 sparsely printed pages.  In this short space, the author crafts a masterfully structured novel that is both original and disturbingly resonant.

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