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In Light of Shadows: More Tales by Izumi Kyoka

1 rating: 4.0
a book featuring classic Japanese Gothic Fiction

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Author: Izumi Kyôka
Genre: Gothic Fiction
Publisher: University of Hawaii Press
Date Published: January 1, 2005
1 review about In Light of Shadows: More Tales by Izumi...

Slow, steady, unnerving and memorable...

  • Jan 4, 2013
  • by
Rating:
+4
The Meiji Era was fertile ground for some of the greatest Japanese minds of the 20th century, such as classic writers such as Natsume Soseki, Koda Rohan, and Ogai Mori. Izumi Kyoka is another one of those great authors from the early 20th century, but he is renowned for his influence on the traditions of the darkly beautiful "gothic" fiction. No when we say "gothic fiction", the first images that come to mind for many people are scenes of blood and death, giant castles, creepy crazed wives, etc. Kyoka's literature is quite different from that though. He focused more on the subtleties of topics like erotic tension amidst the backdrop beautifully described dark fictional worlds, where the supernatural always seems to very quietly bleed over into reality. It's difficult to explain...one has to experience it to truly understand it (or maybe read some of the many essays written about him). His stories are not scary and don't reach anything like the debaucheries of works like M.G. Lewis' THE MONK; rather they're extremely poetic and heavy on imagery. Anyone who reads them of course will be able to define them as distinctly Japanese, and it's no mystery why Kyoka is considered such a prized treasure in his native land.

The three stories in this collection include a novella ("A Story by Lantern Light") and two shorter ones ("A Quiet Obsession" and "The Heartvine"). "A Story by Lantern Light" is considered one of Kyoka's great masterpieces. The tale concerns several seemingly unrelated characters (two men on a strange exodus across Edo, a young musician with a dark secret in his past) whose lives are intermingled with each other in unexpected ways. However because this story is structurally complex, it may easily confuse a lot of readers. If you're reading Kyoka for the first time, I would recommend you begin with the second story, "A Quiet Obsession", which is a much more straightforward ghost story and a great demonstration of the writer's talents. Then maybe read "The Heartvine", a reflection on death which almost plays out almost like a tragic love story, and then go back to the novella. Charles Shirô Inouye's translation is certainly beautiful, although undoubtedly modern. He also has some excellent essays at the end to explain the stories as well as their context within the realm of Japanese literature.

I should also note too though that Kyoka's stories are very heavy on detail and can be rather difficult to follow at times. It's no surprise that comparisons between him and Edgar Allen Poe keep coming up. Even though the language here is radically simplified from its original Japanese, they're still not easy to wrap your head around the first time through. If any author required multiple readings, it would be Kyoka.

My only complaint is that at three stories, this collection is a little sparse. I am aware that this is the second collection, however the first collection JAPANESE GOTHIC TALES contained four stories and was a little broader in scope iirc. If you have the money, get both books, since the stories in there were also career defining. In Japan, Kyoka's works encompass 29 volumes, so we are only getting a tiny sampler of this very talented man's work.

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