The Akutagawa Prize Reading Challenge

If you liked コンビニ人間 and haven’t read むらさきのスカートの女 yet, there is a point back sale on amazon.co.jp right now, which means you pay 1100 yen, and get back 550 points.

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How is your progress with the book? Did you manage to fight through its difficulty?

Anyways, just wanted to let y’all know that I’ve added the new winners at the top of the list, but they are just listed and not part of a poll yet. The reason for this is that polls cannot be edited later on, so if I create a poll straight away after the new winner(s) is/are announced, that would mean creating a tiny poll with 1 or 2 books every 6 months…
Therefore I thought I’d rather collect the new winners as a list for the time being, and whenever somebody finishes one of them, please ping me and I will turn the list into a poll. This way chances are that I can group the new winners into somewhat larger polls as the new winners are not always being read straight away… :sweat_smile:
But if you finished one of them straight away, please don’t hold back and tell us here!

Thanks for your understanding!

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I was confident that I’d be finishing quickly, but I got distracted, so I’m still at 25%. I found the second chapter much easier, though, but the style remains more or less the same, so it’s never something to breeze through. Still determined to get back into it, but since I’ll be busy until October at least and have another (easier) book I’m currently reading, it’ll probably still take a while~

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So, after 5 months I finally read the English translation of 乳と卵 (because I wanted to be able to stalk the ABC threads :grin:). The translation doesn’t have a short story bonus, instead it contains a 乳と卵 “sequel”, but I only read the first book.

Aaand I didn’t like it. :sweat:

Maybe it was too literary for me. :thinking:

But beside the ending I also didn’t like characters personalities, especially adult sisters. (And yes, I’m taking their life circumstances into account.)
And random digressions.

But I liked descriptions of bodily functions, just, it was only a nice bonus, not enough for me to be a backbone of the book.

All in all, it felt like it could be a nice setting, but… a story itself was missing? :sweat_smile:

Still, looking forward to see what the ABC’s impressions will be! I’m especially curious about opinions regarding “what is the meaning of this” :upside_down_face:

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I revisited your review on this after finishing the book myself (and seeing it linked on readnatively), and I have such a different opinion of this book! :joy: I agree on a surface level with all the themes and such you described, and also that it’s interesting from a learner’s perspective. I guess it was just really not my style at all, sadly.

Towards the middle, that is the latter half of the first story, I was actually pretty interested in where the story was going. And while it was interesting to see these characters’ lives in this way, it was just not going anywhere. Which is fine, that’s life. I just don’t want to read 100+ pages written in this style about it. :see_no_evil:

Thanks to the club, and the quick pace, I managed to finish it in good time, at least. :heavy_check_mark:

Edit:

I think we’re in agreement on this! :smiley:

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Just wanted to share with you all (in case you haven’t seen it yet) that @KazeTachinu wrote a review on 推し、燃ゆ in the tadoku thread. (Big thank you by the way! :blush:)

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Today the winner of the 166. Akutagawa Prize was announced. It is 砂川文次’s「ブラックボックス」- I’ve added it to the list in the OP. If you read it, please ping me and I’ll add a new poll where you can tick it off.

BTW Bookwalker has a discount on the Akutagawa and Naoki prize shortlisted books until Jan 27th: 「第166回芥川賞・直木賞 受賞発表記念キャンペーン」 | 電子書籍ストア-BOOK☆WALKER

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If anyone would like a free audiobook of this, the voice actor Kaji Yuuki has read it on his YouTube channel here:

(I’ve not listened to it through as it’s above my level at the moment but would expect it to be good based on the standard of other things he’s done)

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Just to avoid any potential confusion, judging by the description it seems to not quite be the whole book, but just the first 40 pages

(still a cool find though)

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woops, I should probably have read that before posting it lol. I can’t seem to find a full length audiobook for this that he’s done (though I’ve not done a major search) so I guess it’s just a little taster then. Maybe he wanted the job of doing the audiobook lol.

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Yeah I guess this is just a promo thing and one can probably buy the full audiobook somewhere. Anyways, I think it’s great to have those things to easily try out a book (for those peeps who have enough vocab and can follow at their reading speed anyways :sweat_smile:)

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Copied from the Now Reading thread:

I finally finished 貝に続く場所にて! Only took me what, about 7 months?

grafik

I really don’t know what to say about this book except that I never really knew what it wanted to tell me. It’s about a Japanese woman from Sendai living in Göttingen, Germany where she encounters the ghost of an old acquaintance who passed away during the March 2011 tsunami.

From there one her memories interweave with the townscape, sculptures of planets, art history, religious figures, the ghosts of other people. There’s a truffle dog who digs up objects that hold a special place in people’s memories and the entire book is full of symbolism and never really states anything in clear words.

I’ve read other books where I enjoyed the poetic, kinda flowery language (風立ちぬ comes to mind), but here I just had no clue what I was even reading for paragraphs on end. It wasn’t a vocabulary problem and probably also not a language problem first and foremost. I think could’ve gotten a bit more out of the book if I had done a bit of research. Survivor’s guilt is definitely a big theme, but there’s just so many things flowing together that it’s really hard to say what else.

I bought the book because of its premise, but I really struggled to get into it. I’m glad that I managed to finish it, but I don’t think I’d do it again and will probably drop other books that I just feel I can’t get into from here on.

That why I also won’t judge the book. It just flew over my head. It’s not unusual that I don’t completely get literary works – I definitely did have my problems with キッチン and 推し、燃ゆ. But 貝に続く場所にて was on a whole new level.

Maybe I’ll try to read some reviews. If anyone else reads it, please tell me your opinions.

I also thought it would be a short read with only 160 pages, but the text is so dense that it’s about the same length (93k characters) as many 300 page novels, so you definitely shouldn’t assume this is a quick read. It took me about 4 minutes per page, significantly more than other books I read.

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I finished 沖で待つ (2005)!

Yet again a short story collection, with three very different stories, but I enjoyed reading them.

勤労感謝の日
This story is about unemployment and society‘s expectations regarding marriage, I’d say. However it did feel so, so short! It was 50 pages, but there were so many things hinted at, and I was really looking forward to reading the continuation of the story and to seeing the relationships develop a bit more. Which is why I don’t have much more to say about the story, really.
Language-wise, this story used quite an amount of more casual and colloquial speech, which I haven’t seen that extensively in many books yet. (乳と卵 being the exception)

沖で待つ
This one really felt more like a complete story. Work life is the focus here, but also friendships at the workplace are one of the main topics.
I really didn’t expect the ending of this story.
(General spoilers and thoughts I had in the beginning) The best friend/colleague of the protagonist is overweight and gets kind of bullied (?) for it? His nickname is 太っちゃん, and he gets comments at work, but he doesn’t seem to mind. He gets married to one of the デキる女 at work and nobody seems to understand why a guy “like him” gets together with her. These sorts of comments. Because of this “bullying” I expected the story to be about suicide and mental well-being. It’s strongly hinted at in the beginning and also in one of the conversations that the protagonist has with 太っちゃん.
(Ending sort-of spoiler?) However he does not commit suicide, which I really didn’t expect. It’s known from the beginning that 太っちゃん dies at the end, because the whole story is retold as a flashback, and I definitely think Itoyama wants you to think it goes in a certain direction. But in the end, it was kind of wholesome, really. It wasn’t a sad story, it just felt realistic and real.
You also see Itoyama’s previous experience working for a tile and sanitary manufacturer before becoming a writer. It’s really cool to read in such detail about the work life in a company, dealing with customers, architects, products, etc.

みなみのしまのぶんたろう
The title says it all, really. Warning: this story is written only in hiragana. Story-wise, it also feels like a children‘s book. The story is kind of absurd, with random details being thrown in that have no further relevance, and everything feels like it’s written for children.
The protagonist is the Minister of Electricity, and one day he decides to eat a delicious-looking bento that is sat on the table in one of the conference rooms. He doesn’t know whose bento it is, but whoever it belongs to, they can just eat his bento in exchange, right? However it was the President‘s bento, and the president, as a punishment, sends him away to an island in the south, where he is now supervisor of a power plant. The story then goes into a completely different direction, as ぶんたろう learns that he can talk to fish. His boring ひとりぼっち life changes completely and he spends time with his new fish friends every day, also rescuing some people along the way.
I always expected there to be some sort of lesson learned, some sort of moral of the story, that the character somehow shows signs of character growth (because I didn’t find him very likable; he‘s arrogant and egoistic – although to be fair, there is a bit of character growth: he stops eating fish once he befriends them), but almost everyone seems to like him. But maybe that is exactly what the author intended to portray: most people just lead their lives, with no karma coming their way to punish them for anything they might have done wrong.
I thought there would be a big twist, like his wife leaving him or forgetting about him, his friends never visiting because they actually were only interested in him because of his influence as Minister. But nothing like that ever happens, which made the story feel kind of simplistic and very linear.
It is a children’s story, really. I don’t think there’s a better way to describe the way the story felt to me. She even adresses the reader directly at some point: どくしゃのみなさんは、じゅうねんまえといえば、まだうまれてもいなかったでしょう。

I did realize, however, that even without kanji I managed just fine. Sometimes parsing takes a bit longer, but you get used to it quickly. The first page, I was like “this is gonna take ages”, but in the end I hardly even paid attention to the fact. Knowing lots of vocabulary definitely helps. :smiley:
ぶんたろうがだいじんになってじゅうねんのひびがすぎました。ぶんたろうからみたらこくみんたちはみんな、でんきのおんけいにあずかってしあわせにくらしているようにみえました。 ← imagine this for 50 pages

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Today I also finished 沖で待つ (2005), my second Akutagawa book (after a number of failed attempts) :tada:

I can wholeheartedly agree with everything @Myria said in her review. To add a little bit to it:

勤労感謝の日
For this story I very much liked how outspoken and even blunt the protagonist was in her thoughts, and thus in her criticism on the Japanese society. It felt very short, and I would have liked to stay with her some more.

沖で待つ
Really wholesome story, I liked it a lot. And I also thought this felt more like a book than a short story. Admittedly, it is the longest of the three stories, but not really by much (maybe 20-25 pages or so?). Interesting how different my perception was compared to the first story.

みなみのしまのぶんたろう
This was indeed a children’s story. I got lots of 小川未明 vibes. The tone was very similar (although the general setting was not), and it had this same rambly storytelling to it where you would never be sure what the story tries to aim at.
The hiragana was indeed pretty annoying at the start, but I got better and better at it over the course of the story. The only thing that was really hard was to find my reading position again after having looked up a word on my computer :joy_cat:

General thoughts
Generally speaking, all three stories surprised me in the way they unfolded. Or maybe in the way they didn’t unfold. :upside_down_face:

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I thought you might like to know that one akutagawa winner I read recently, 蹴りたい背中, I also didn’t find to be very confusing. It deals with the confusing themes of being a teenager, (not) fitting in, love etc. All the fun stuff. But the writing and happenings itself weren’t very confusing imo. :smiley:

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Ah yes sure, that’s why I said “sort of sticks that tag to it”. I know there are exceptions (沖で待つ also leans rather to the (language-wise) non-confusing side for the most part), but in my experience (looking at you, Harlekin) it is rather likely to happen with Akutagawa winners that at some point the language stays understandable - or so it feels - while the contents seems to be very confusing - or so it feels :rofl:

Hard to describe for me; it’s like when I know all the words and grammar points and still cannot make sense of what’s going on :woman_shrugging: Probably it’s just me and this will sort itself out over time with more reading practice, but it taught me to be a bit cautious aroud those books :grin:

Oh yeah, and that title sounded quite intriguing! :rofl: Did you like it?

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(2013年下)

Another Akutagawa book done! :white_check_mark:

The premise (woman moving to the countryside and falling into a hole) seemed weird and creepy, but in my opinion it was less creepy/scary than I expected. Yes, there are some weird things happening, and the author is very good at invoking this base-level creepiness throughout the (first) story.

Some of the creepy things involve the grandfather always watering the lawn day in day out, there being weird holes in the ground that some animal dug out, protagonist being bitten by a weird bug, everyone being very pale, no people ever being out on the street. Just a base level of these sorts of inexplicable and slightly weird things, really.

I liked the ending as well. I wish it had gotten a bit more specific other than „a lot of things the protagonist saw were just her imagining things, they actually never existed“. It did make for a nice twist, though.

The characters in the second and third story are the same, so I wouldn’t call them separate stories, but rather two chapters of one „story“. The second story, いたちなく, I probably enjoyed the most, the ending was interesting (a very short story-esque ending, but I liked it).

Language-wise, the author has some interesting quirks that made it a bit more difficult to read than your standard, say, 森 博嗣 or 小川 洋子. The author’s favorite expression is probably ~だの、~だの. She also loves listing several possibilities with ~か~か~か, which takes some time getting used to. But compared to other Akutagawa books, it’s not that difficult.

@omk3 in case you’re interested

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I found an interesting article about the Akutagawa / Naoki prizes
芥川賞・直木賞 第167回の候補10作、あなたへの1冊は

It said something interesting: 今回は芥川賞の90年近い歴史で初めて、全ての候補作が女性作家の作品となりました。 Which I find really cool!

One part of the article is a little questionnaire that gives you the Akutagawa / Naoki nomination that fits your interests best based on your answers.

There is an analysis of each nomination as well, like this:

ギフテッド

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I just finished the first story of , and as per @NicoleRauch 's suggestion, I’m copying my rambling thoughts on it here from the Read every day challenge thread, so that they’re easier to find and discuss.


I unexpectedly reached the end of the titular story! And…I’m still rather at a loss. I wish we had read it in a book club, there’s so much to speculate on…

Open for very long, very rambling thoughts on the story. Major spoilers for the whole story of course.
  • The mother-in-law looked surprisingly like her mother-in-law. At the end of the story (and after getting a job), the narrator also resembles her own mother-in-law in the mirror.
  • Things the narrator perceives that seem to not actually be there: A hikikomori brother-in-law. Lots of children. A middle-aged neighbour with a very young child. A beast unlike any known animal that digs holes.
  • The grandfather-in-law must be real since there’s a funeral and everything. Yet his strange behaviour is only perceived (if it even happens) by the narrator. In the eyes of everyone else he’s just a regular old man watching TV. So, a grandfather-in-law who only smiles and waves, never speaks, and constantly, even in the pouring rain, even at night, waters the garden.
  • The voices of cicadas permeate everything. They stop when the neighbour or the brother-in-law make an appearance - signifying a departure from reality? A shift to another point in time? (Although I think the brother-in-law also comments on the cicadas at one point.)
  • The beast isn’t aggressive after all. It meekly stays in the hole with the narrator, doing nothing at all (and smelling of nothing).
  • The husband. In the beginning, I got the impression he had a good balanced relationship with his wife, discussing all decisions with her and respecting her opinions. After the move, he’s constantly absent. Even when he’s there, he’s typing on his phone. When he sleeps, he appears dead. Interestingly, his father seems to be also entirely absent.
  • The neighbour, who may not exist as such, talks about her own life and her move to that place, how there’s nothing to do and nowhere to go without a car, and how a child gave her life purpose.
  • The brother-in-law, who probably doesn’t exist and it’s unclear whether he ever existed, talks about how he couldn’t bear the pressure to be a productive, children-producing member of society (a very Murata moment, I thought) and just withdrew.
  • There are red things scattered in the neighbour’s garden. (Oh, and what about the vegetables? Those seemed to be real, they ate them). There are red things in the grass at the riverbank. What are those?
  • The mother-in-law seemed very together and all-powerful in the beginning. A very dynamic woman that might be likely to get too involved in her son’s marriage. She soon loses much of her power though, and at the end she seems more lost than the narrator herself.

So what was the story about? I feel an obvious answer would be it was about trapped women (hence the holes and why three unrelated women looked alike), or being trapped in general (the neighbour “escaping” with a child (as if), the brother-in-law “escaping” by becoming a hikikomori. But I don’t think it’s as simple as that. What about all the (non-existent) children? What about the focus (which I loved) on all the mundane little details, the insects, the flowers (only one in each vase!), the Japanese ginger from the neighbour’s garden (which only felt unpleasantly crunchy to the husband), and so many more. What about the beast? Why did it dig the holes? Why did it get in there itself? The brother-in-law jokes that they should name the beast Asahi. Is the beast supposed to be the narrator’s wild nature, and how it’s constantly getting trapped maybe?
And what about the grandfather-in-law? Why was he always watering? Why did he die after falling in a hole? Why was the mother-in-law so lost and dejected after his death? Was he keeping nature (or the wild side) alive? Why did so many unknown people come to mourn him?
I feel like every little detail had significance, I only wish I could see it.
I’d be very interested in reading @Myria 's and @NicoleRauch 's thoughts on the story (or anyone else’s who has read it of course!)

All in all, I loved the story, and the slightly surreal, slightly off feeling that was constantly there in the background. I loved all the vivid descriptions that appealed to all the senses - I felt that I could hear, and feel, and smell what the narrator was describing most of the time. And it was indeed (thanks @Myria ) very close to the kind of “horror” I was looking for. Not horror at all, but something off, something unknown hiding behind normality, only vaguely perceived.

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Quoting @myria’s reply from here:

Reply and more rambling thoughts:

I very much agree on short stories. However, this didn’t really feel very much like a short story to me. I found it strange how it had those huge time jumps and never dwelled on events that would normally be considered important (a death, or her finally getting a bike and finding a job for example) when it focused so much on tiny details - but then I really loved that focus.

Oh my, that コンビニ scene! The awkwardness was painful. I related to her to such a degree that it was almost unbearable. :sweat_smile:

You have a very interesting take on the holes. I thought the holes might be the traps society sets for women (all people, actually), the roles they are unwillingly assigned. I was mostly basing it on the brother-in-law’s speech. However, I really like your theory -if I understand it correctly- that the holes were for people who were at a loss, had not found, or had lost, their purpose in life.
Who fell in a hole? The narrator fell once, and was rescued by the neighbour. Then she willingly went into another hole that also contained the beast, and it was the beast that helped her out. The grandfather-in-law also fell in a hole. He was helped out by the narrator, and died soon after. (So was the narrator also in danger of dying?) The brother-in-law, free from society’s shackles, never fell in one. Never helped anyone out either.
The neighbour admitted to being in a rut when she moved there, and got busy when she had a child. The brother-in-law hated his assigned role in society, and found his own purpose in life in withdrawing from society. The narrator on the other hand is wavering. She never seems to feel strongly about what she wants. She had a job she needed, didn’t love it, didn’t outright hate it. Then she didn’t have a job, and tried to be a conscientious housewife, cooking from scratch etc, but again more out of a sense of responsibility than anything else. She even refrained from things that would give her pleasure (like reading) because it would cost money she wasn’t earning. She didn’t even feel strongly about having a child. She just let life take her wherever. Was that the hole? Her getting a bike to be able to move around and finding a job, was that her getting out of the hole?
Then what about the grand-father’s hole? Was his dementia so advanced that he lost his own purpose in life?

Then there’s everyone’s paleness. The neighbour and the brother-in-law are pale, never change clothes (as far as I remember), and don’t seem to be affected by weather, be it rain or heat. They screamed “ghosts” from the start, yet they also feel very much real in many respects. I still don’t know whether they actually existed. The brother-in-law seemed to get “life” from the neighbour’s child (the hand that had been touched by the child was red for a while). (The husband was also pale though, and had a low body temperature, so that he appeared dead when sleeping.)

Children are another major theme. The child that gave purpose to the neighbour’s life, also gave warmth to the brother-in-law. And all those swarms of children, in the コンビニ and along the river, apparently they didn’t exist. What were they? They caught centipedes in bottles, and the narrator found such bottles in the shed that was supposed to be the brother-in-law’s house. Were these glimpses from a distant past? From an alternative reality? From what life could have been like?

In the end, the narrator finally gets out of her rut. Gets a bike. Gets a job. Runs over a cicada (they had been oppressing her all summer). Sees workmen gathering the grass along the river bank in piles (is that the end of the hidden holes?). Among the grass, the red things resemble 彼岸花 [1]. That’s red spider lily, and from a quick research, it seems to be associated with death. There’s any number of ways to take this symbolism.

Edited to add: It’s interesting that you said that maybe all those things were conjured up out of her boredom. I thought along similar lines, but with a more positive (?) spin. All those things that only she noticed, they did somehow exist (supernaturally or not), but everyone else was too busy with their lives to take the time to notice them. The narrator had a certain sensitivity and attention to detail from the start, and maybe her jobless, aimless time gave her the chance to focus her energy on actually perceiving her surroundings in a way that other people never bothered to. (not sure that’s a good thing though)



  1. ↩︎

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