Book Reviews

Review: Slow Boat, by Hideo Furukawa

Boku has an uneasy preoccupation with dreams – and with making and losing lovers. And when he first runs away from Tokyo, his dreams and his reality gradually start to shift and overlap. This is a story of three failed escapes – and the loss of three girlfriends in the process. The first girlfriend is taken away, the second runs away, and the third is sent away by Boku himself.

A startling tale about the anguished battle to escape oneself, this structurally complex and fascinating novella is both a homage to Haruki Murakami and a stunning piece of magical realism.

 

What a lovely, unusual, weird little book this was!

I started the story a little disoriented; it took me a couple of chapters to settle into the fluid motion of the storytelling. Essentially an account of his life from childhood to adulthood by way of nine different ‘boats’ or significant events, out narrator Boku tells the story from his present day in 2002, following three failed attempts to leave Tokyo.

“This is my botched Tokyo Exodus, the chronicle of my failures.”

Furukawa plays with language beautifully throughout the book; highlighting the limitations of Japanese and flitting between ideas and scenes with a smoothly sporadic rhythm. The city of Tokyo and its sprawling boundaries is a character in itself, a constant foe that foils Boku’s plans; and he hates the city in return.

Over the course of his three failed escapes, he loses three girlfriends, all of whom have tried and succeeded in escaping something or somewhere. Boku, as well as never making reference to his own name; doesn’t name a one of them either. They are ‘the girl’ or ‘my girlfriend’, each a memory of something else that Tokyo has taken from him.

Boku’s relationship with dreams and the way they define his life are a significant part of his chronicle. A recurring dream sequence, which he visits several times, each from a slightly different angle; reminded me very strongly of a scene from The Angel’s Game by Carlos Ruiz Rafón – fantastical, languid, moving as if through water.

At the end of the book, Furukawa pays homage to Haruki Murakami and his tribute to him through Slow Boat. Fans of Murakami will certainly enjoy this quirky offering!

slow boat

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