Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
The Night is Short, Walk on Girl
Over the course of a year, a college student, who has fallen in love with a younger woman in his unnamed club, tries desperately to connect with her. Meanwhile she moves through the world with a sense of exploratory wonder, briefly connecting with the same cast of possibly supernatural beings in her adventures as she walks a parallel path with her senpai.
The Night is Short Walk On, Girl is written almost as a series of interconnected short stories. Each section takes place during a different season, beginning with the spring and ending with the winter, and although each is only loosely connected via its cast to the stories around it, they manage to come together into a whole that feels a bit like a hand-netted fishing bag: a whole that is firmly of a piece and yet full of gaps.
This is a bit of a departure from the 2017 film of the same name, which was based on this book by award-winning novelist Tomihiko Morimi. The movie version weaves its story a little more tightly, taking out a lot of the chance meetings (or meetings that the heroine sees as chance) and saving things up for its finale, while the book follows much more of a meet-and-part method of storytelling. This gives the book more of a sense of kismet as the male protagonist tries desperately to catch up with the female protagonist, succeeding in ways that slowly become apparent to her as the book runs on. While nothing about the slightly supernatural tale could necessarily be termed “organic,” Morimi's storytelling does feel much closer to that in the way that people come together and then drift away, like waves.
Largely this is due to the book's use of magic realism, a literary genre most readers are likely familiar with from the works of authors like Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Isabel Allende. Morimi's use of it does align with those authors' in the way that he incorporates smaller moments of fantasy into an otherwise fairly “normal” narrative. The characters of Higuchi and Rihaku may be the best indicators of this – Higuchi claims to be a tengu, and nothing in the storyline seems to contradict that, while Rihaku is, quite simply, everywhere. He lives in a fantastic three-storey train car with a garden on the roof and affects almost everyone in the novel with his actions, far more so than the female protagonist, who is more of a drifter through the narrative. Although she is instrumental in the final winter-set chapter when she fights the God of Colds, mostly it is merely her presence that works as a catalyst, whereas Rihaku directly acts upon the story, female protagonist included. The title, in fact, are words that he speaks to her in the first chapter, and it is those words that help to keep her progressing through the narrative, arguably making Rihaku the God of the Story, assuming he isn't a specific deity in charge of Kyoto itself.
While that does lend a potential spot of mis-en-abyme (a character in the story actively writing the story) to the book, it is not a realization anyone comes to over the course of the novel. Given that the characters interact with two specific gods – the God of Colds and the God of Used Bookfairs – this feels deliberate, and the small hints dropped into the story about Rihaku's supernatural state (such as that he survived the Spanish Flu, which he in no way looks old enough for) are for our benefit as readers rather than for the characters to discover. That someone is pulling the (red) strings is something that the male protagonist seems to consider, especially during the third chapter, but it is a question barely asked and never answered, which works with the nature of the text.
It can at times be hard to remain within the world Morimi has created, however. The narration is split between two first person voices, with both male and female protagonists taking turns, and there isn't much differentiation between them. In a few cases, only the people they're interacting with make it possible to tell who is the narrator, which is an issue. The other major problem is that the female protagonist comes off as a bit of a manic pixie dream girl, a trope that Otherizes women as magical creatures while also at times infantilizing them. In this case, the female protagonist's amazing ability to change people's lives simply by interacting with them, to drink insane amounts, memorize lines in an instant, and be the sole person in all of Kyoto not to come down with Rihaku's cold all help with this, and her childlike sense of wonder at it all, compounded by her “bipedal robot dance” and other quirks all contribute to this designation and at times jeopardize her interest and agency as a character. Readers who are not fond of the trope are likely to have a more difficult time with the novel than those who are not, because although it does seem to lessen as things go on, in the first chapter it really is an issue.
On the whole, The Night is Short Walk On, Girl is a good novel. Its use of magic realism gives it the feeling of a prolonged dream, and as those elements decrease towards the end of the final chapter, it seems we are gradually waking up. It's a book that needs time to process a bit after reading, but if you're looking for something a little bit more literary than most of YenOn's offerings or are a fan of the magic realism genre in general, this is worth checking out.
Overall : B+
Story : B+
+ Dreamlike quality to narrative really works with its genre, interesting narrative structure
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