Halloween horror recommendation: In Light of Shadows with Izumi Kyoka

Cover scan via Google Books. But like I explain below, just find a paperback.

[Something different for Halloween, but quick and insubstantial again because between the holiday, a funeral, and a job-search, I’ve been out and about more than usual. Bleh]

Let’s get the recommendation out of the way quick: In Light of Shadows (2005) is excellent.

To build on his first volume of Japanese Gothic Tales (1996), translator and professor of Japanese literature Charles Shiro Inouye adds three more short stories by Izumi Kyoka to the Japanese “gothic” writer’s neglected English-language corpus-in-translation.

In Japanese Gothic Tales (which I recommended last year), Inouye had an academic argument to advance regarding Kyoka’s overlooked significance in English-language scholarship of modern Japanese literature. As such, Gothic Tales offered a representative sample of Kyoka’s massive literary output: one famous story (“The Holy Man of Mount Koya”), one excellent one (“One Day in Spring”), and two shorter, weaker stories that Inouye’s superb critical essays nonetheless used to create a convincing, holistic image of Kyoka’s progress from his earliest works (“The Surgery Room”) to his later career (“Osen and Sokichi”). However, having already established Kyoka’s importance in his first volume of translations, with his second, I suspect that Inouye then had more freedom to prove Kyoka’s brilliance for this follow-up volume.

And yes, the selections from In Light of Shadows are brilliant, perhaps only beaten still by “One Day in Spring” from Japanese Gothic Tales (though I am biased; as a shinjuu genre fan, I loved that story to death).

In Light of Shadows includes three short stories:

  1. “A Song by Lantern Light,” a split narrative which follows two old travelers on the Tokaido road seeking to entertain themselves while resting at an inn on the one hand and, on the other, a young, impoverished musician passing through town. In Kyoka’s fate-bound tales though, they are of course linked — as the mystery of their relationship unwinds, the drama builds into a tremendous climax that breaks out of the page itself. It isn’t exactly a horror or ghost story, but the tension caught my breath. As a bonus, it should be of special interest to anyone who enjoys Noh theater (specifically the play Ama, The Diver).
  2. “A Quiet Obsession,” a more conventional ghost story which nonetheless uses an exceptionally complex narrative structure to warp the reader’s sense of time and propriety. It starts as a simple traveler’s tale related second-hand. But as the story develops its ghostly suspicion, it slips into third-hand accounts embedded within that second-hand account, and further on to fourth-hand accounts, all speaking simultaneously until you wonder – when did this happen, anyway? Now? I glanced into the corner of my room just to check. Stylistically, it’s *mwah* the among the best ghost stories I’ve read.
  3. “The Heartvine,” Kyoka’s last story and his most autobiographical one, written as he died of cancer in 1939. It returns to the theme of love-suicide common in much of Kyoka’s fiction, which I know makes many readers uncomfortable. But please don’t let that deter you for this one story; unlike his more pessimistic works that present death as some noble, delicate thing, here I think Kyoka has a more hopeful message about reasons to accept life (and well… death too), as considered by a man dying.

Like in Japanese Gothic Tales, Inouye concludes the volume with an afterword composed of critical essays that help contextualize some of the more obscure references in the stories (because Kyoka reaches far enough that he would stump many Japanese readers too!) and elaborate on Kyoka’s literary techniques. They are, again, excellent, with scholarly rigor befitting Inouye’s academic position but decluttered of the sort of technical jargon that might impede general audiences (hello!). Kyoka’s stories are brilliant, but Inouye also deserves praise for his intimately readable translations and critical insights that make a writer as obscurantist as Kyoka accessible to the English-reading world.

Anyway, like I said when I recommended Japanese Gothic Tales last year, if you have even the slightest stomach for horror or discomforting fiction, give In Light of Shadows a try. Since I bought it last week, I’ve already read it cover to cover twice in the dark late at night. I only regret that Inouye doesn’t have a third volume of Kyoka stories ready for me to pick up for Halloween next year!

Finally, a technical complaint:

Though I can’t recommend the book itself enough, I would advise against purchasing the Google Books eBook edition. It isn’t transcribed by a human but rather scanned and processed by a computer. But bafflingly, that computer output was left unedited, resulting in a large number of typographical errors and a few odd words where the program cannot read special characters and fonts. For example, from the notes section:

Modem novel, the newest in internet technology. The scan even gets the author and translator’s names wrong! Twice!

Worst of all Google Books has an absurd “copy quota” and page numbers that don’t seem to match the print edition. How do I reflect on a book if I can’t pull quotes at will!

If you at all can, just pick up a paperback copy.

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