According to the blurb, the relationship between Tsukiko and her sensei is “a hesitant intimacy which tilts awkwardly and poignantly into love”. It’s more awkward, half hesitant and less poignant than I thought it’d be because I believe that their rather superficial romance is simply birthed from Tsukiko’s loneliness and her possessiveness over someone who makes her feel not-lonely.
You see, the problem with Tsukiko is that she never truly makes an effort to assimilate herself with those around her—even after she opens up to her sensei. It’s immensely frustrating to read about her feelings of herself being alienated from others and loneliness because it largely stems from the aforementioned lack of proper effort. I understand how she feels dissociated from the world and I can definitely relate to her when it comes to that, but I find that difficult to accept when all she does is just drift in her own childish (and exceedingly childish, she is) bubble, complaining that others don’t see things her way but never trying to see things the way others do. Plus, there’s also that part when she gets an obvious clue that her feelings are being reciprocated but what does she do? She avoids her sensei and then, leads another guy on (other guy may be aware and encouraging this but still, no)! Like girl, why you doing more stupid things?! Ugh.
Also, yes, the sensei has issues too but since we’re seeing him from Tsukiko’s point of view, I can’t objectively write much about him aside from him being a person who’s stuck in his own bubble as well. I mean, it’s not like Tsukiko’s viewing her love interest through the eyes of a neutral observer…Though, I certainly prefer him better and his feelings for Tsukiko feels more sincere as well.
Other than that, the writing for the first half of the book lacks in-depth emotion, and the random things like Tsukiko’s monologue about Wilkinson soda water, don’t add any substantial depth to her humanity. If anything, it made her seem shallower than she actually is. On top of that, there’s the inconsistency in Kawakami’s writing (or perhaps Powell’s translation). What irks me isn’t actually something major once I managed to ignore it, but I’d like to mention it all the same: quotation marks. In the early chapters, things are still fine. There are quotation marks used when appropriate like so:
“‘Tsukiko, everything OK?’ he asked as he showed me the handfuls of mushrooms he had collected.
‘Totally fine. Really,’ I replied” (p.42)
But, when we move on a few chapters later, the quotation marks for Tsukiko’s ‘present/active’ dialogue vanishes and reappears like a whack-a-mole’s mole. I’ve an idea that the lack of quotation marks for those lines of dialogue are supposed to signify that it’s the ‘past’ or to create distance. However, Strange Weather in Tokyo is already written in what I’d call the ‘present’ past tense (ie: he said, she said) instead of ‘past’ past tense (ie: he had said, she had said), despite it being a story of recollection. Thus, that on-off appearance of quotation marks really messed with my perception of time for the story. Furthermore, her sensei is clearly in ‘present’ past tense when she replied without quotation marks like here:
“’It’s an invitation to the cherry-blossom-viewing party,’ Sensei said a few moments later.
I see, I replied. The cherry-blossom party?” (p.74)
So yeah, on-off quotation marks. Throwing off my perception of time even though I’m aware that Tsukiko’s is remembering the past. Irritating.
(Also, can someone explain to me what the heck is ‘So, don’t let’s go to Satoru’s place tonight’ (p.66) supposed to mean?! Because my brain is telling me that someone made a typo and it’s supposed to be ‘let’s don’t go’ but considering how much of an oddball Sensei is, he might as well worded things that way on purpose too. Ugh, conflicting thoughts!)
Moving on, let’s discuss about how boring this book can get, particularly in the beginning. Like holy shiitake mushrooms, for a book only with 176 pages, you’d expect the romance (which is the main point—the plot of this book) to progress a little faster—like turtle’s walking pace kind of fast, but no. It’s one of the slowest romances I’ve ever read and it certainly makes the aforementioned random things thrown in the story feel like they’ve no purpose aside from slowing down the romance even more. If there’s an award for that, Kawakami certainly deserves it because I’m in 100% awe at how slow she made everything.
Nevertheless, I’m glad that the pacing picked up a little after Chapter 7 (Karma) and I definitely like Kojima best. Though, it feels too convenient that once his purpose in the story is gone, that there’s no more mention of him. I get that Tsukiko’s an unreliable narrator but can’t we just get a line mentioning that she completely ghosted the guy or something?
Anyway, to sum things up, Strange Weather in Tokyo is a little underwhelming. It’s easy to read because of its simplistic writing but has a rather boring enough start that I placed it aside multiple times. It doesn’t have enough depth (no, random dream chapter, you don’t count) to the story, and the majority of the writing—aside from poignant chapters like The Cherry-Blossom Party II and The Briefcase—doesn’t compel me to think that it’s beautiful. It’s still worth reading, though.