Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds
by Takuya Asakura (2009)
Recently I've read a bunch of Japanese rock novels. Yes, we have now a good tradition of rock novels, mainly written by the post-Beatles generation who was first exposed to their music after the group was disbanded yet while John was still active, whose first Beatles album was either the Sergeant Pepper or the White Album, who was born in the 60's. Takuya Asakura is one of them. He was born in 1966, and mostly writes mystery and historical novels. But this novel is a whimsical fable, based on Alice in Wonderland and the Sergeant Pepper album in which that song was featured.
The story is a little adventure of seven years old Lucy in London where she lived with her parents and a little brother. Then she and her brother had to take refugee in the countryside during the war, and there she fell into an old well and found an underground wonderland like Alice did. Yes, there she found that Mr. Henderson was a ringmaster of a circus, who was actually a Mr. Kite and admitted he was a walrus, and eventually she realized that happiness was a warm gun. Yes, it's like a magical mystery tour, where everything is like a kaleidoscope vision. There's no dark shadow of war, nor loneliness of an alienated little girl. All is colorful and wonderful. Yet, you can hear some echo of lamentation of missing something. Obviously the author misses John Lennon. His love for that Beatle is palpable. It's a great fun and it looks like what John might have written if he were a great prose writer.
Well, you can't call Norwegian Wood (1987) by Haruki Murakami a rock novel, but he was much influenced by music as that title suggests. (Actually, he was not that into rock music. Murakami is a big Jazz fan.) After Murakami, our authors became adventurous, thought it was all right to write about rock music, yet seriously for adults. Last year I was impressed by Atsuhiro Yoshida, whose The Continuing Story of Finger Bowl (2006) refers a lot to the White Album by the Beatles. It's a collection of stories about a writer who after an advice from an older man, tries to write about the story of fingerbowl. It's, too, a whimsical fable, and lacks any depth, yet it reads like haiku, or beautiful family album, evoking sentiments lost or fancied once in your life. On the other hand, Oyaji Age Rock 'n' Roll by Tatsuya Kumagai (Daddy Age Rock 'n' Roll; 2009) is a traditional realistic novel. The protagonist is a good dad who, seeking a hobby and on impulse, bought an electric guitar, which was too expensive to get when he was a student, then, urged by a young girl at his office, formed a rock band with middle age guys. Now, less ambitious than other would be musicians in his local city but with adult wisdom, he manages to persuade a good young singer to join the band, who turns out to be the daughter of the sweetheart/lead singer of his youth. Eventually, they taste some success, but decide to keep the music strictly a hobby and decline an offer from a major recording company. Love of music is everywhere, and despite a clichéd episode about his old flame, it feels a natural and honest story about a midlife joy, not crisis. In Japan, a lot of old geezers in their forties and fifties now play rock music like the protagonist, because they can afford at last. Yes, rock music should not be a business, ideally, but a hobby. Everybody's everyday music of joy was its original idea.
Last year, Kikuko Tsumura won an honored literary award for new writers, Akutagawa Prize, and her second novel, Music Bless You! (2008) is another winner. It's about a high school girl, who is a bass player in her band and frequently corresponds to an American punk girl about their favorite musicians through e-mails and chat. It's a very honest story about a punk girl in the aughties in Osaka. Girls are supposed to be cute in Japan, but our protagonist hates it, although her chat, mail, and her actions towards her friends are very lovely. I wished I could have been a teenager again and have loved the punk music like her, when I was reading it, although usually I don't care for school life or punk rock at all. Yes, love for music is sometimes contagious. Tsumura is a good novelist, age 32 now, and I became her fan. Besides, she is an SF reader, too.
I've read a lot of American and British rock novels, but as much as I love them, I regret somehow that they are mostly about music business and failed dreams, rarely about the joy. Our rock novels are different. They are full of joy. I hope you could read and love them.
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(C) Copyright by Yoshio Kobayashi