Picnic in the Storm

Yukiko Motoya

Translated by Asa Yoneda

Published by Corsair 10 January 2019

224pp, hardback, £12.99

Reviewed by Alison Burns

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Winner in 2013 of the Kenzaburo Prize (for this collection), and in 2016 of the Akutagawa Prize, Yukiko Motoya has been mentioned in dispatches for some time as a startling new voice in fiction.  Her stories mix an almost deadpan ordinariness with entertaining flights of fancy that should lift the sternest critic off her feet.  Magritte meets Murakami in tale after tale of the oddest things happening in the very path of daily life.

In ‘The Lonesome Bodybuilder’, an unambitious and self-dismissive young woman (‘a quiet girl like me’) who lives with a driven, perfectionist and distinctly inattentive husband breaks out of her passive norm with a programme of bodybuilding.  Only when she has reached colossal proportions can she show him her real feelings.

This riffing on insecurity continues in ‘Fitting Room’, an outlandish story of the invisible boutique customer who never emerges.  The sales assistant wonders if ‘she’ is just having one of those crises brought on by fitting rooms, where you ‘wonder…whether your entire life up to that point has been an embarrassing mistake’.  The truth proves somewhat surprising: is the customer even human?

In subsequent stories, businessmen are borne aloft by their umbrellas; a bulging curtain distracts an advertising executive; men in suits attack a street market.  To this reader, too many of these little fantasias are inconsequential, inconclusive.  Motoya is at her best in the longest story, ‘An Exotic Marriage’, and in the last, ‘The Straw Husband’, in each of which she explores and expresses the weird forms of alienation that can be experienced in this most conventional of living-arrangements.  The collection ends with an argument, as tiny musical instruments pour out of the hapless husband’s husk.

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