During my last journey through my favourite bookstore I was browsing the new books section, when one particular book caught my attention. I read the author’s name and the title and they certainly rang a bell, I blinked, my brain worked hard, I blinked again and then I almost hugged the person standing next to me out of sheer happiness: Kanehara Hitomi’s Hebi ni piasu has been released in English!!!

It is published by Vintage/Random House in the UK under the title Snakes & Earrings and was translated by David James Karashima. The cover design is absolutely beautiful. I was totally oblivious to the fact it would be published in English *_* Actually, amazon.co.uk says the book won’t be out until June 2 but it’s definitely out already ;) I didn’t even think twice about buying it, just grabbed a copy of it and was the happiest girl this side of the Equator.

Kanehara was awarded the Akutagawa Prize for this book early last year. The media went berserk because she and the other winner, Wataya Risa (for her book Keritai senaka) are both such young girls. There were even people complaining that the jurors chose them to get the attention of the public as the publishing industry has been on a decline and nothing sells better than scandalous books by sexy young ladies. (Both girls are quite different though. Kanehara is really much trendier and different whereas Wataya is more the nice smart girl who’s studying at Waseda.)

So last night, I sat down and devoured Kanehara’s debut. It was a fast read as the book is on the slim side with its mere 118 pages.

Lui is a 19-year-old girl who meets a guy with red hair and piercings in a night club. He’s called Ama and gets Luis attention by showing her his forked tongue. Lui gets interested in body modification and wants to get a forked tongue herself and also becomes Ama’s girlfriend. She gets to meet a friend of Ama’s, Shiba-san, the owner of shop selling earrings, accessories and sex toys. Shiba-san is a tattoo artist. Lui starts to visit him on a more or less regular basis and wants him to design a tattoo for her. They end up having sex together without Ama being aware of it. Ama has a soft core even though he looks pretty scary but one night he beats a guy to a pulp because he’d hit on Lui. A few days later, Lui reads in a newspaper that a gangster was killed and the suspect is a red-haired young man. Lui is shocked but isn’t sure whether this was really the guy Ama beat because she can’t believe he’s a murderer. Nevertheless, she dyes his hair blonde to protect him from any investigations by the police.
While Lui becomes more and more addicted to alcohol, she maintains a sado-masochistic affair with Shiba-san. She’s more or less convinced she’s going to get killed by either Ama or Shiba-san. But what if it’s not Lui losing her life but one of the guys…?

Unfortunately, I thought the novel was a bit of a letdown. Large parts of it read like the livejournal or weblog entries of your average girl who can’t deal with the majority of society and tries to live a life different than most peoples’. The writing isn’t really unique, smart or inventive, there’s not much specialness or even beauty in the language or the style.
There are just one or two reflective paragraphs; the book isn’t exactly full of insightful thoughts and ideas due to the limited language itself but interestingly enough, Kanehara realises this herself and expresses it through Lui:
“I collapsed on to the ground and broke down in tears. Screw you. Go to hell, you fuckers. I wish I had a greater vocabulary to fully express the extent of my pain and hatred. But I don’t. I’m just pathetic. That’s all I am.” (p.105)

The characterizations are also somewhat lacking. You don’t get emotionally very close to either of the three main characters, not even Lui, the heroine. You don’t get much information about their lifes or family backgrounds just like the characters don’t know much about each other. But this proves fatal in the end and just illustrates the faults of Lui’s life.

The relation between Lui and Ama is rather cute though. It’s what touched me the most emotionally because even if their relationship is based on almost no common interests, they care about each other. I also found myself liking her descriptions of the sex scenes. They are explicit but somehow distanced and unemotional and thankfully not as brutal or even downright disgusting as those of some other younger writers.

I think Kanehara is very much aware of the faults in her writing and she uses them to create her very own style. She’s by far not a second Murakami Ryu or Yamada Amy, two writers she likes and looks up to. At least not yet. But you can sense her potential.

Ash Baby, Kanehara’s second novel, is supposed to be just as shocking. (I read it involves rather unusual forms of love, for example one of the characters is attracted to infants – in a sexual way! o_O) One can only hope she doesn’t use such elements just for the sake of shocking people. She needs to develop a way to give her stories a bit more philosophical, sociological or psychological background so her books aren’t just shocking accounts of the life of young outcasts written in a pulp magazine kind of style but have depth and meaning and justify the term ‘literature’.