Wednesday, 30 November 2022

Dead-End Memories: Stories by Banana Yoshimoto Review

I read Banana Yoshimoto’s Hardboiled & Hard Luck a few years ago and hated it but decided to give her another shot - maybe I just picked the wrong book? So I gave Dead-end Memories, her 2003 short story collection published in English for the first time this year, a chance and… nope! I just don’t think this writer is for me unfortunately.

The book contains five stories: House of Ghosts, about a young couple who live in, that’s right, a house with some ghosts; “Mama!”, about a woman who gets food poisoning at work and thinks about her physically abusive mother; Not Warm At All, about the fate of a bastard son of a wealthy local businessman; Tomo-chan’s Happiness, about a woman who, after being sexually assaulted as a teenager, finally finds love in her adult life; and Dead-end Memories, about a woman who gets cheated on by a man with a secret lover, and whose friend helps retrieve the money he owes her.

The blurb says these stories are about women who are in the process of healing, which I can sorta see with some of them. They all have this melancholic vibe to them with each of the female characters looking back on past trauma and their present situation. What they don’t make for are particularly interesting or memorable stories. I just read this collection and I barely remember anything that happened in them, mainly because almost nothing does. I also never really consult the blurb but I did this time because I was at a loss as to what to make of it all.

House of Ghosts for example is a load of waffle about an ordinary relationship, the spirits of some old people shuffle around a house benignly, and that’s it. Tomo-chan’s Happiness is such a bland and straightforward story about banal everyday love. Even when Yoshimoto injects dramatic moments into the story, like the ending of Not Warm At All or what the mother of the protagonist in “Mama!” did to her, the prose is so weak that it barely registers - at least to me.

The occasional moment in some of the stories are very mildly interesting, otherwise I remain as unimpressed by Banana Yoshimoto’s stories as I did when I first read her in 2016. Maybe if you’re a fan of this writer and enjoy her style, you’ll get something out of this collection, but I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone looking for entertaining or even remotely engaging storytelling.

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