“He had not meant to indulge again in this sort of ugly senile dalliance…”
Yasunari Kawabata, the Nobel Prize winning author, revered for classics like Snow Country, Thousand Cranes, The Master of Go, enters territory wandered by Nabokov and Garcia Marquez (whose Memories of My Melancholy Whores was clearly influenced by Kawabata’s earlier novella) amongst others, with this uneasy hymn to watching naked young women sleeping, through the eyes of an elderly man, at the titular house.
The young women are drugged before the man enters the room. The customer is not to touch the woman. Physical interaction is not allowed, but the gaze lingers and moves slowly across the person next to him. The man is supplied with two sleeping pills and he compliantly takes them. He dreams fantastic dreams, mixed with headily erotic memories of earlier lovers. Each visit he sleeps next to a different woman, each inspiring experiences and memories that are particular and vivid. These dreams and the self-reflection brought about by them, is the point of this exercise.
The craft of the writer is evident: the language is serene, the movement through the story effortless, while the sentiments being brought up for Eguchi, the old man, are economically realised.
“Were not the longing of the sad old men for the unfinished dream, the regret for days lost without ever being had, concealed in the secret of this house?”
In 2011 Australian film maker Julia Leigh produced Sleeping Beauty, a languorous, art house interpretation of Kawabata’s story, told from the perspective of one of the young women.
This edition also contains two short stories, the first of which One Arm, begins, ” ‘I can let you have one of my arms for the night,’ said the girl. She took off her right arm at the shoulder and, with her left hand, laid it on my knee.” We are in a strange place.