Man and woman, sex, love and death . . . As German literary scholar Osamu Ikeuchi wrote in the January 2007 edition of Shincho, these "timeless themes are dealt with in just proportion in this novel, a work of such strength that one is left speechless." This brilliant work of fiction, which left readers dumbstruck with admiration, received the MEXT Award for the Arts.
Half of Manazuru takes place in the town of Manazuru, facing Sagami Bay in southwest Kanagawa Prefecture, a two-hour train ride from Tokyo. (Such specificity is unusual for this author, who more often leaves the setting vague.) Twelve years have passed since the narrator, a woman named Kei, was left alone with a three-year-old daughter following the disappearance of her husband, Rei. Looking through Rei's diary she finds, next to a date approximately one month before he vanished, the single name "Manazuru," and she begins making repeated trips to the seaside town. She is an essayist and has a lover. Above all, she has a life with her daughter. These ordinary facts of her life are built up with convincing detail, and yet every so often her guard slips, she wavers, and is then liable to pass through a doorway into the world of the extraordinary.
Symbolizing the dividing line between real and unreal is the something or someone that follows Kei around. Indeed the presence seems to take actual possession of her. In the beginning Kei doesn't know whether it is male or female, though eventually it is revealed to be the latter. Her vanished husband was fond of the sea; perhaps, she thinks, this may be some marine creature. Eventually the presence begins to speak to her and, as if luring her to the spirit world, draws her to the town of Manazuru.
The protagonist's wavering emotions, caused by her pursuit of something so indefinite, are rendered adroitly through internal dialogue. For example, in describing her feelings toward her newborn daughter Momo, she says, "She felt close." The word she chooses is not "lovable" or "adorable," but "close." Whereas now, she muses, "Our relationship isn't close. Not exactly distant, either."
Of her feelings for her husband, which one would normally expect to be the focus of the novel, she says this: "Bitterness was perhaps going too far. Or no, not far at all―actually not far enough." She feels bitter, and yet she goes on seeking him. This endless fluctuation in her emotions, like the rhythmic motion of ocean waves washing in and out, draws one in until one resonates in sympathy.