Final section. Did he…did he just accidentally propose? Did he just sign up for being force-fed by his wife for life and pretend to like it? Poor boy. Growing up constantly hearing that a boy must eat his fill to grow strong, that a man must marry and produce heirs. He seems to allow himself no enjoyment, even neglecting the books he loves, doing only what he (thinks he) is expected to do, even to the extent of marrying. Apparently he does like her (sexually), but there’s no connection anywhere else. And no love, surely. Why would he leave a crushed cake on her desk if he cared for her? On the other hand, 押尾 has my respect. The bullying may not have been a class act, but I could understand her frustration so well. At least she left with style. Hopefully she can find a better environment in which to flourish. As for 芦川, she’s one of those people that would drive me crazy, but she obviously means well at least. Does she deserve this marriage? At least she may be oblivious enough to never realize her husband can barely stand her cooking.
Thoughts on the book as a whole. No spoilers as such, just general comments on content
What was this book! On the surface it was just a petty office intrigue centered around cupcakes, yet it had me turning pages as if my life depended on it. Of course there were so many more layers than that. The deeper you dig, the more you find. All about upbringing, social norms, pleasure vs responsibility, happiness and the lack thereof, caring for others, being accepted by others, and so much more. Yet it was also surprisingly fun on a superficial level. From just the blurb, no, even a full book summary, I wouldn’t believe it to be especially interesting. Yet I honestly couldn’t stop reading. Thank you @Naphthalene for bringing it to our attention, and @NicoleIsEnough for making me read it organizing this book club!
So now 二谷 has become aware that everybody in the office knows about his relationship to 芦川. We see her spending a lot of time baking, and she produces more and more superb cakes for the office, but 二谷 is not a fan. In the end, he crushes a cake she had set aside for him.
I must say I had actually expected him or 押尾 to already do that with the very first muffin they received, as a way of teasing her somehow. But it didn’t happen. Now he is alone in the office, so it’s only his own feelings he is facing. He just doesn’t like her cakes and food as much, and he feels he needs to play a role in order to please her, or maybe only to appear grateful (which he clearly isn’t).
So interesting that he can’t even break up from a relationship that officially nobody knows about. This reminds me of many toxic relationships of old couples in Germany, who just are so co-dependent despite the toxicity that they can’t exist without the other, or at least that’s what they tell themselves. Here we don’t even have a co-dependence, but still he somehow feels so obligated.
I was actually much more confused why she didn’t cut it into 12 pieces, like you do with every ordinary round cake? I mean granted, this won’t be a large cake, but you can still divide a circle into 12 segments perfectly fine, no matter the size. It’s just her power play, which is really interesting for a change. She truly found a way to exert power over the others.
Yes, I agree. Every time she brought cake, he described it in a pretty disgusting way with the overly sweet smell filling the room. Yuck, I’m a sucker for cake, but I wouldn’t like that either.
Ahaha, no omk story without a proper hole, it seems
This section gives us a flashback to 芦川 and 押尾 's past where they went to a client together and on the way home rescued a cat. While 芦川 seems to have handled the client quite well, when she wanted the cat to be saved she exposed all of her weakness to 押尾 who promptly declared that she hated her because of her weakness. Another similarity to 二谷.
You know, I thought at first 押尾 was acting out. In this final section, when she said she wasn’t feeling well and wanted to skip the farewell party, I thought that she was being passive-aggressive towards 芦川 by acting like her in front of everyone. Then, I thought that she must’ve given up and decided to start acting like 芦川 because she could easily win the concern of everyone around her. While 押尾 is hardworking, the odds never seemed to be in her favor in the office. Even relationship-wise, she and 二谷 had better chemistry, but 二谷 still went out with 芦川. I felt as if she learned her lesson the unfortunate way and told herself that if she wanted to get ahead, this was how she should act.
However, we have that crazy ending with 二谷. The dude broke. Everyone around put 芦川, and he couldn’t understand it. He also is so used to doing what’s best for him based on what society dictates, even if it’s not what he wants, that it probably drove him crazy. I realize that 押尾 probably broke too.
The ending gutted me. I wondered if 芦川 fed them something to control them, such as in the case of other books with magic realism in them. However, it didn’t check out since that element wasn’t present in the other sections. To me, they just broke, and it’s sad. I’d love to hear everyone else’s thoughts on this. I didn’t think I’d be invested in either 押尾 or 二谷, but the final section shocked me to my core.
Yeah, I also was thinking if everyone just got a bite each, it wouldn’t be so bad, right? Why would they have to leave the others out? It irked me that she didn’t even suggest it.
He probably couldn’t see what his problem was. It didn’t seem that he didn’t have anyone to talk about it with, not even 押尾 because he was stupidly hiding it from her.
Thank you so much @NicoleIsEnough for setting up this informal reading group. Without you or @omk3 , I wouldn’t have been able to understand much of the book. I’m glad for the direction and clarification! Also, @Naphthalene ! Thank you for recommending the book in the first place.
Now, I’m hyped and want to join in as much as I can with the book clubs in 2023.
I largely have lost track of what sections had what spoilers, so overall thoughts below:
The writing flowed so well and oh my gosh I hate how much I related to some of it from back when I worked in an office where people would force their home baked treats on you. Telling some people you don’t want their homemade cupcake is like telling them you want to kick their puppy. This to me was a story of terrible people all being terrible to each other in small, incredibly familiar ways. The power dynamics of ‘going home on time’ vs ‘being a team player’, the attention seeking home baking, the shameful eating of ramen after a homecooked meal, the petty revenges that get found out, sleeping with some one ‘just to see’, choosing a path of expectation vs desire (does he even know what he wants?)…so many things I’ve seen play out in my own or other people’s lives. Maybe a bit exaggerated in the book, but ultimately the petty, nasty conflicts that arise from people who may have no common connection trying to work harmoniously together show through.
I loved how vicious this book was at times, while all being about utterly mundane topics. I also felt like in some places it reminded me of (still unfinished) 闇祓 which also dealt with social pressure and tension in a very Japanese cultural way that I sometimes found hard to relate to. I could relate much more to this book, but there were still definitely things that I only ‘understood’ in that I know them being true in Japanese culture, but which have no actual resonance with me.
@Naphthalene I know you were worried about your recommendation of this book, but I think it was a massive success. This was such a great book.
@NicoleIsEnough thanks for putting this together and poking me in the reading thread to get started already
Perfect summary, all of it! The book was a train wreck in slow motion, yet painfully familiar, and therefore even more addictive and fascinating. Many of us have been there. The microcosm of an office is such a perfect breeding ground for these petty annoyances to flourish and sometimes spectacularly explode. Personal sidenote: I only spent a few brief years in an office before deciding it wasn’t for me. Now watching other people in fiction suffer in an office environment is an endless source of entertainment for me - from a safe distance.
Same here There was no way I could finish it in a day (it would be an afternoon if it was in English, I’m sure), but 4 days is still record time for me.
It did? Wasn’t everything headed that way anyway? 二谷 never consciously chose what he wanted over what he thought he was supposed to choose. He’ll probably keep acting out in small ways like throwing food in the trash and secretly topping up homecooked meals with pot noodles (or still checking the literature club’s messages, that’s also a tiny act of rebellion for him), he may even have affairs if the other women are assertive enough (he doesn’t resist much), but ultimately this is the life he made for himself. I’m sure the books will slowly vanish too. He’s been letting himself be manipulated since forever, and he’ll continue to do so. I thought the last assertive thing he did was approach 芦川 when she was vulnerable, but I’m now convinced it was more the other way round, and 芦川 with her vulnerability, consciously or not, manipulated everyone around her, including him.
Well yes, she fed them home-made sweets and vulnerability and smiles. And they were all fascinated. I’ve met such people. They are unreliable and never do what is expected of them, but because they do those “nice” things that no one asked or needed, they appear thoughtful and caring, while someone who just works hard to get the job done (and does in fact have everyone’s back in the way that matters, like 押尾) appears just cold and distant in comparison.
Apart from all that, food, the main theme of the book, plays a major role in Japanese culture apparently, even more than anywhere else. Saying おいしい and its equivalents when trying something is not an option, it’s required. Not eating homecooked balanced meals three times a day is ridiculously frowned upon, as if you’ll get sick the next day or something. And, while true in many other cultures, eating alone is considered especially sad, and eating with others adds an extra magical yet essential ingredient that you shouldn’t go without. I’ve never been to Japan, but that’s what I’ve gathered from the books I’ve been reading. Food is everywhere. And 二谷 especially has been struggling with attitudes about food since his childhood.
Not sure about the size of that cake, but there are cakes that just can’t be divided into very thin pieces or they’ll break. They’ll still taste the same of course, but remember, this was the result of her なっぺ seminar, which focused on icing the cake just perfectly. If you care about something like that, you’ll obviously won’t want to then serve the cake in broken pieces. I thought she just never thought it through, but it may have been a power play too. I never got a good enough sense of 芦川’s thinking. Such people will forever remain a mystery to me.
My thoughts exactly. Holes are just as prevalent as food in Japanese fiction. Holes, food, and funerals. Mysteriously, there was no funeral in this book.
I think that sums up exactly what I felt about the book, and the “mundane” part was why I was afraid others might not like it. But I’m glad all of you seem to have enjoyed it
Thank you, @shishamo, and @omk3 for letting me know
Mulling over it more, it seemed like it was headed for disaster, but I think I was secretly hoping for a happier ending because of the material I gravitate towards. The last book that bothered me was 地球星人, and I read that with you guys as well.
I knooooow. I really wanted him to snap out of it and make better choices! However, the idiot had to go and propose.
Same! She is lowkey devious, which makes things even scarier because everyone thinks she is sweet and unassuming.
How lucky! Hopefully, nobody can force-feed you kindness and sweets in your line of work.
Thank you again for the guidance in your responses. I really appreciate it!
I thought the same haha It’s very interesting how the author can evoke this feeling of “it’s too much” even in us readers.
I think it’s just so full of regrets for him. Joining the discussion would mean to admit that he still likes literature and that he made a mistake back then when he chose his uni major. Especially now that somebody praised him for a book he recommended (saying that he was not only interested but also kinda “skillful” in literature, I guess?) So this must sting twice as much.
I must confess that I’m somewhat relieved that you didn’t all reply with “why, that’s normal!”
But it was nothing special, just a sponge cake with cream, no? And fruit on top. There’s nothing crumbly in it…
FWIW my baking book tells me to cut the (regular-sized) fancy cakes into 16 pieces (I think one recipe even says 20 pieces!) and I srsly wouldn’t be able to do more than 12 I guess, but if you go to a café they usually also do at least 16.
Let’s not go into psychoanalysis on this one, ok?
I was about to say that they are closely interrelated, but then I remembered that in Japan people are not buried in the earth…
Yes, absolutely. Japanese just don’t touch. I have two Japanese (male) friends (one middle-aged, one younger) who tell me straight away they cannot hug me (although we know each other for 2+ years), and shake my hand instead. (Which feels super alienating to me as I’m a big hugger, but anyways.) But I don’t even remember hugging female Japanese. It’s just contrary to their culture.
Regarding the scene, I mean she was kneeling and he was sitting, therefore basically somewhat burying his face in her breasts, I think that would be outrageous even in Germany…
I also had a Japanese male friend shake my hand and while I knew hugging was off the table I’d rather we didn’t shake hands either in that case. It feels so business like! With American friends who are “not huggers” we just…don’t hug.
Yeah that’s also how I read that scene. They kept emphasizing how close he is was to her chest and it seemed overly intimate and inappropriate. Iirc he was drunk? So maybe he’d “fallen” into the hug
Yes, exactly that!
In the case of my friends, I guess they just want to give as much body contact as they possibly can so I … let’s say … appreciate the effort. But it really feels like a sting in my heart for a second before I consciously tell myself that they don’t mean it the way I instinctively perceive it…
Interesting, eh? Same here. They shared some deep philosophies, and then his confession at the end. I was hoping until the last word that they would somehow realize they want to stay in touch (or more), but of course, that was not going to happen.
What a clusterfuck Feels like he’s gone full circle and is now back to square one.
I really wonder what “average” Japanese people think about this book. Do they react like “oh yeah, that’s how it is”? I mean, I haven’t seen so much of the innards of Japan, but from what I’ve seen, it doesn’t sound extremely unrealistic Would be happy about insights!
Actually, that’s what drives me crazy the most People constantly caring even when I don’t want to be cared, and not leaving me alone, is just horrible for me.
Yes, that’s what I thought as well at first. But her point that there is no reason for her to lie on her last day made me reconsider.
Or maybe that, good point!
Yes, that was exactly what I thought - and feared! I hoped that he would get up last minute and say that he doesn’t want her cake, like the boss in the office asked them to do. But no…
Although I cannot quote and reply to all of your final comments here @omk3 and @pocketcat, I wholeheartedly agree with everything you said!
Finally thanks so much to @Naphthalene for mentioning the book - it was such a fun rollercoaster ride! And thanks to everybody who participated here in the discussions - I always think it doubles the fun if we can discuss books in this way.
Let’s do this again some time!
Ok, I’m gonna post all my thoughts I wrote down while reading first and then read through everyone’s comments
I felt bad for 芦川 here, even in front of strangers her brother makes fun of her
This feels like weaponized incompetence? Or is there something more serious going on with her for why she can’t take take care of the dog for one day.
二谷 really has some serious hangups around food if, when talking about a wedding, the first thing that comes to his mind is 「人を祝うのも、飲み食いしながらじゃないとできないって、だいぶやばいな」
And 押尾 agreeing with that is just lol.
What did I just read. The whole cake cutting scene was just weird, and then of course the tart crushing scene felt like a stereotypical 芥川 book scene. The only thing missing was him throwing up after eating the cake. I’m glad he didn’t, but it wouldn’t have surprised me.
I’m not sure if 芦川 just really likes the attention or if she’s just trying to be cute or if she’s trying to indirectly apologize for the fact that she’s not that good at her actual job.
But I can’t even be mad at her because I’m not a fan of the whole „work until 10pm“ attitude so on the one hand I’m like yeah good for you for going home on time, you don’t owe the company overtime.
But I can’t be mad at the others either for doing work that has to be done and being mad at 芦川 for leaving early.
芦川 should really make this her job. Well, she is literally making it her job at this point. Good for her, I guess. I still find her kind of weird I can’t quite describe it. 褒められたがる, maybe that describes it. She grew up not being good at many things, being scolded and being made fun of for her incompetence, by her own family even, so once she finds something she‘s good at and enjoys, she clings onto it.
And 二谷 really messed up when he didn’t simply say 甘いもの苦手〜 the first time.
I think this was in a previous section, but I actually felt that when he said „it’s so annoying how you’re basically forced to say ‚wow it’s so delicious!‘ every time you eat something homemade“
I just loved 二谷‘s thought here so random.
I love how 押尾 just casually ignores the fact that 二谷 is crushing the sweets before throwing them away
This chapter started off strong. I wonder why 芦川 still tries to be nice to 二谷 even though he obviously doesn’t want her around. Maybe she’s never experienced being appreciated for who she is? But even I felt annoyed by her LINE message. And I also understand his „I want more than 30 minutes to live my life each day“ but the obvious solution to this seems to not work until 10pm.
It might be jealousy after all that 芦川 is being forgiven for not working evenings and weekends. She at least has time for her hobbies. 二谷 doesn’t even seem to have any, apart from reading but he doesn’t even really engage with his reading friend group either.
Also, the sister being like „just perfect as in-laws“ was just lol.
Section 16 (or maybe it was 15)
I wonder why her colleagues are so protective of 芦川. It’s really interesting. How do you manage to become someone like her? How do you make people think „oh you poor thing, we don’t want you to go to a different branch, you should stay here so we can protect you“. And 芦川 is soo oblivious to all of it? „Lucky, I can continue living at home and eat my mother‘s homecooked meals, isn’t that great, 二谷?“ 自覚ゼロ. I think that’s what annoys me the most about her. (Also, 異動 culture is the weirdest thing ever.)
Man I pity everyone in this story. How sad 二谷‘s life must be. Heteronomy is the only word I can describe his life with. This book made me sad.
That’s exactly why I find reading YouTube comments on 社会問題 so interesting… some people just seem to „miss the point“ from my perspective. Of course I’m not saying my opinion is the correct one. But I’m oddly relieved when I find a comment by a Japanese person that sees things similarly to how I do.