Grand Finale by ABE Kazushige (阿部和重)

The winner of the 132nd Akutagawa Prize was announced in January, and the winning novel was published in Bungeishunju earlier this month. Being cheap, I waited for the magazine publication, which is why this post is too late to qualify as news yet too half-assed to qualify as literary criticism.

Grand Finale (『グランド・フィナーレ』) is the title of the winning novel, and it's a great title, one of those titles that hovers ominously over the entire book, informing all of the action but never quite granting you the luxury of a single, clear interpretation. The story itself works like that, too: it starts off with a hallucinatory scene involving talking animals, then spirals down through revelation after revelation about the protagonist, who becomes progressively less sympathetic as we learn more about his true nature (hint: he likes photographs of little girls). By the time you reach the end, the beginning has changed so much it's practically inside-out.

Mind you, it isn't just a straight "For you see, he is secretly a monster living in a jar of Tang!" switcharound, either. There's some Tang, sure, but there's also some watered-down redemption, some themes that recur retrograde and inverted -- it's a remarkably intricate work, given its length.

The author, ABE Kazushige, is both male and 36, so he didn't get much press, but apparently he's been in the lit trenches for some time now. (There's a reason the book's obi says "Literature has finally caught up with Abe Kazushige"). His speciality, at least in these books, is the long monologue that doesn't seem forced. Although the book is in (semi-reliable) first-person, every so often one of the supporting characters will get a speech that, although in a single set of quotation marks, goes on for several pages. And it works! He has a firm enough grip on his characters and their speech patterns to get away with it -- and he sets up the shot carefully, so that it never comes across as meaningless exposition. On the contrary, I began to look forward to these stained-glass windows into their minds.

While we're on the topic of the Akutagawa Prize, I also read one of the short-listed novels: YAMAZAKI Nao-Cola's 『人のセックスを笑うな』 (Hito no sex wo warau na, or "Don't laugh at other people's sex lives", literally), which is the curiously blunt and non-heartwarming -- yet not gritty or sneering -- story of a sweet affair between a college student and one of his teachers, twenty years older than him.

I enjoyed Hito no sex, but I have to admit it wasn't as funny as I thought it would be, based on the title. In fact I was surprised by how sincere a lot of it was, and apparently this turned the Akutagawa judges off, too; almost every judge who mentioned the book said that they had nothing in particular against it, but that it was "immature" or "simple". I guess we are to think of it as the charming hut next to the Gothic cathedral of Grand Finale.

And yes, Nao-Cola is a pen name, and it was indeed inspired by Yamazaki's love of cola-flavored soft drink.

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Did you ever go to one of the Akatugawa Prize receptions at the Imperial Hotel? I went a few times in early 1990s, very interesting. Email me at danbloom@gmail.com and I will tell you more.
If you want to go next time, I think I can help you get in. Let me know.


I was surfing Wikipedia and ended up on a stubby article about ABE Kazushige... and this entry was listed as an external link. So I guess you're now a recognized reference!

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