This novella and three short stories display a strong experimental bent and an ever-changing array of narrative techniques, in a compilation that showcases author Seikō Itō’s deep and expansive knowledge of world literature.
The title work, named a candidate for the Akutagawa Prize in 2014, draws on “The Nose” by Nikolai Gogol (1809?52), and the novel Shot by Both Sides (tr. 2008) by Japanese avant-garde author Meisei Gotō (1932?99), who frequently exhibited the influence of Gogol. The story takes place on Sunday, April 7, 2013. The first-person narrator begins giving a speech on Hijiri Bridge at the eastern end of Ochanomizu Station in Tokyo. He wears a mask over his face?like the character Kovalyov in Gogol’s tale, he has lost his nose. Somewhere in the course of the speech, the reader realizes that the first-person subject “I” now refers to author Itō rather than to the original narrator.
Itō once taught creative writing in the Faculty of Literature, Arts, and Cultural Studies at Kinki University, which Gotō had a role in founding. Itō speaks of his great admiration for Gotō, and about the writer’s block he suffers, until suddenly the reader realizes that Gotō has replaced Itō as the speaker, and that he has morphed in turn into Kovalyov’s lost nose. Some two hours after “I” begins to speak, the crowd continues to grow, but it also divides into a pro-nose group and an anti-nose group, and security police have arrived to keep an eye on things.
What is the nose? What is “I”? Itō has taken Gotō’s thesis that “there is no such thing as an original story,” and deftly unfurled it in the form of one. Not only Gogol and Gotō, but Franz Kafka, Italo Calvino, and other authors new and old show their presence between the lines.