Natsuko and her older brother, Riichi, are the children of an English mother and a Japanese father, Frances and Kazuo Akazawa. Living in Japan, Frances still finds the totally different structure of society from her own background almost impossible to accept. She has tried, but now after some years she closes her mind to it all. Kazuo has been patient, but with Frances on verge of a nervous breakdown the situation becomes impossible. Into the household comes Hiroko, the slatternly maid, free with her favours and soon after she arrives Frances leaves for England for medical treatment, hoping some time away will heal her.
It does not take Hiroko long to start and affair with the long-suffering Kazuo. But he is not careful enough for not only is the precocious Riichi aware of this but also Natsuko. He is able to understand its implications far better than his young sister, a child suddenly flung into the adult world, into a web of desolation and loneliness, without the secure relationship of her mother and with a father who does not understand her. The novel has an unusual and evocative setting, a growing tension that builds up towards a dramatic climax.
‘A mesmerizing first novel…a chiller… dark and magnetic energy’
The Kirkus Review 15th February 1980
‘The writing has a fierce, eggshell quality…a distinct talent.’
The Guardian 2nd August 1979.
‘…admirably captures that curious paradox of Japanese life…’
6th July 1979 New Statesman.
‘A sinister, telling and original debut by an author already mature and professional in her style and outlook.’
8th September 1979.
From Chapter One
That Summer was a first growing up. And after it the rustle of grass, the view of the bay, each th ing she touched were never the same, but filled with the menace of a dark adult world. Like a ceiling upon a tall room.
Then, it was the tick of the clock, unswerving, going on after everything stopped, which possessed her nightmares. That, and the russet iron faces of Japanese armour standing in her father’s study. These walked forever towards her, slowly. Each step a clump of metallic scales and a ripple of shoulder flaps, as if a wind was caught beneath. Their faces, carved in flanges and ridges, were ferocious as the wind god. The blue-laced one had a sparse white beard, the other a hog hair moustache. But their eyes were the same, empty dead slits, blacker than their faces.
In her mind everything began on that first day, when she found the new maid, Hiroko, in the kitchen, with chopsticks pulling white flakes of fish from the bones, eating her lunch. The room smelled of yellow radish pickle and the fish, charred on a wire stand over a flame. Hiroko picked up a slice of pickle between wooden chopsticks. And took a sharp bite. She did this exactly, taking her time, ignoring Natsuko who had come into the room and stood near the table. Finally, she raised her head.
‘Are you the daughter? You look like your mother.’ Her eyes were still, without expression, staring across the table.
Is your mother American or English? It’s strange you’re blond like her and don’t have your father’s Japanese hair. My sister once worked in an orphanage for half-blood Japanese children, after the war. I went there once. I must have been your age, nine or ten. I saw all kind of weird faces, especially the ones with Negro fathers. But I never saw any with hair like yours.’ Hiroko looked at Natsuko critically, and gave a sudden harsh laugh.