Shimura Kobo, an unmarried man in his mid-fifties, lives alone in a quiet suburb of Nagasaki. He’s a loner who prefers his own company to socialising with colleagues after work. He values order and routine in his life, too, leaving for work at the same time each morning and eating dinner ‘at a reasonable hour: never later than 6.30pm’. Perhaps he would live a more spontaneous, more fulfilling life if he were married? But sadly this is not the case.
Shimura’s life seems to be slipping quietly by without incident. But then he begins to notice small changes within his home. A few items of food seem to have disappeared from his fridge: some fish he’s sure he bought; the occasional pot of yogurt here and there. At first, Shimura doubts himself and puts it all down to tiredness and a lapse in memory. But he’s a precise man, one who analyses meteorological charts for a living, and he sets about gathering evidence by keeping a log. It’s not long before he discovers that someone appears to be helping themselves to his fruit juice. As he has no partner and his family seldom visit, he’s baffled and rather unsettled by these little disturbances to his retreat. It’s all somewhat disquieting for him:
I remained mystified and no closer to an explanation. I was rattled. The inside of my fridge was, in a sense, the ever-changing source of my future: the molecules that would provide me with energy in the coming days were contained within it in the form of aubergines, mango juice and whatever else. Tomorrow’s microbes, toxins and proteins awaited me in that cold antechamber, and the thought of a stranger’s hand taking from it at random and putting my future self in jeopardy shook me to the core. Worse: it repulsed me. It was nothing short of a kind of violation. (Gallic Books)
In an attempt to get to the bottom of this mystery, Shimura decides to install a webcam in his kitchen, an action that exposes the emptiness of his life:
From inside the glass cabinet where I had installed it, the camera unveiled a chilling picture of my solitude which made me shiver if I dwelt on it.
As Shimura sits in his office with one eye on his kitchen via the webcam, he questions himself. Was that object in a slightly different position earlier? Or is he imaging things as his mind plays tricks on him?
Hadn’t the bottle of water been slightly closer to the sink earlier on? A matter of fifteen or twenty centimetres, it seemed to me. No sooner had I convinced myself of this than I changed my mind again. You’re making things up, trying to rationalise your unconscious thoughts. For that matter, are you really sure those yogurts disappeared after all? You should report it, you know, go to the police: I’ve had three pots of yogurt stolen in the last few months. Come on now, calm down. Lately, you’ve been all on edge.
Nagasaki is a spare, yet skilfully-crafted and haunting novella. The mystery of the missing food is solved at a fairly early stage, at which point the narrative shifts to show us two different perspectives. Firstly, we get a glimpse of how events affect Shimura as the experience prompts him to reflect on his situation, his loneliness and the disappointments in his life. The ‘barren aridity’ of his existence has ‘suddenly been revealed for all to see’ and he knows he will never be quite the same person again. Secondly, we learn more about the underlying story behind the puzzle of the unsettling occurrences in our protagonist’s home. These two narrative strands are thought-provoking and leave the reader with much to ponder, both about the characters’ lives and broader questions about the society in which we live.
While Faye’s novella can be easily read in one sitting, I started it late one evening and only had time to get to the halfway point before needing to take a break for dinner. The rather disquieting nature of events in the first half had me studying the fridge for signs of disturbance or missing items and double-checking the door and window locks! And it’s all the more unsettling (and distressing) to know that this excellent novella is based on a true story reported in Japan in 2008 (as noted in the introduction).
Nagasaki is published in the UK by Gallic Books. Source: personal copy.