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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

     

Slow Boat

by
Furukawa Hideo


general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Slow Boat



Title: Slow Boat
Author: Furukawa Hideo
Genre: Novel
Written: 2003/2006 (Eng. 2017)
Length: 124 pages
Original in: Japanese
Availability: Slow Boat - US
Slow Boat - UK
Slow Boat - Canada
  • A Slow Boat to China RMX
  • Japanese title: 中国行きのスロウ・ボートRMX (2003) and 二〇〇二年のスロウ・ボート (2006)
  • Translated by David Boyd

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Our Assessment:

A- : enjoyable both on its own and in reaction to Murakami

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Japan Times A 10/6/2017 Iain Maloney
Stanford J of EA Affairs . Summer/2010 M.S.Ignatov
Wall St. Journal . 16/6/2017 Sam Sacks


  From the Reviews:
  • "The prose in this short novel fizzes. David Boyd has done a spectacular job of translating not only the casual, chatty narrative voice, but the wordplay and linguistic nuances of Furukawa’s Japanese. For a novella that is about the limits of language (the narrator regularly curses Japanese for not having the right words or structures to allow him full self-expression), language is used in startling and unique ways. Even the puns work in translation." - Iain Maloney, The Japan Times

  • "Broadly put, SB2002 is a novel about escape, about three attempts, three failures, and a dubious success. (...) Dream sequences are the driving thematic force of Furukawa’s narrative. If the book were a song, the dream sequences would fulfill the chorus function. (...) Furukawa is playing a game specifically with readers of Murakami, inviting them to project analogs from Murakami’s universe onto his work. The new blended structure is completed when readers fill in the patterns created by earlier projections." - Michael S. Ignatov, Stanford Journal of East Asian Affairs

  • "A mood of gloomy, wisecracking rebellion against the "idiotic world" pervades the writing." - Sam Sacks, Wall Street Journal

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Slow Boat is presented as: 'A Slow Boat to China RMX' (remix), with a music-album-like playlist table of contents -- and 'Liner Notes' for a conclusion.
       As everything from the book-subtitle to the liner notes-subtitle ('Writing about what I'm writing about') suggests, we are deep in Murakami Haruki territory here.
       As Furukawa explains:

     These chapter titles are borrowed. Phrases lifted from the work of another writer.
     I've sampled them.
       He admits: "For me, Murakami is at the centre of it all -- the roots of my soul". Murakami's "unforgettable short story -- 'A Slow Boat to China'" is the focal point, but Furukawa's book is more than a riff on just that. Like the way Murakami uses the Charlie Parker tune --and all that jazz -- in his books, Furukawa uses echoes and bits of Murakami's work in this ... (concept) album, a novel with twelve tracks. (Unsurprisingly, the Parker song also repeatedly comes up; so does the classic 1956 album, Sonny Rollins with the Modern Jazz Quartet ("Thirteen tracks in all" -- just like this novel (if you count the Liner Notes as a chapter/track) --, including 'On a Slow Boat to China').)
       Like Murakami, Furukawa is heavily influenced by music -- and he acknowledges:
I've never been the sort of writer who lives in an entirely literary world. Pop culture is the air I breathe.
       He also notes how music "has a way of moving on its own -- from generation to generation", as with the cover song, new renditions of the original. But Slow Boat is considerably more than just a Murakami-cover version, as Furukawa experiments with the idea of musical-type sampling in a literary work: themes, voice, elements are taken and adapted from Murakami, but Furukawa's use of them makes for a convincingly original work.
       Slow Boat is not only a Murakami-homage, it's also a Tokyo tale (indeed, it's even dedicated: "to Tokyo, 2002"), a love-letter to the city. Much of the book is bound together by a common thread: the narrator's inability to escape from Tokyo, as the stories progress chronologically, from childhood on, describing his failed attempts to make it beyond the all-consuming metropolis. The book even opens with the statement: "I've never made it out of Tokyo", and he describes it as: "the chronicle of my failures" -- the album/novel dominated by his account of three attempts that led him nowhere.
       Women are involved in his attempted escapes, girlfriends lost, one way or another, as he finds himself unable to follow them out of Tokyo. As in many Murakami-tales, love is hard to hold onto and the universe sometimes conspires against it. They're enjoyable little life-tales, in each of which the narrator finds himself powerless against greater forces -- whether simply in complete childish helplessness, faced with an anonymous (and overpowering) mass, or, finally, the universe conspiring against him in all its absurdity, as the narrator opens a small restaurant (shades of Murakami yet again), falls happily in love with the replacement chef (a knife-wielding young woman), only to see his dream literally shattered by the unlikeliest and most unfortunate of circumstances (an eventuality that isn't even covered by his insurance ...).
       The girls do okay (at least in the short term); the narrator -- he stumbles on:
     Needless to say, there was no happy ending in the cards. The world beat me down, like it always does.
       There's a Murakamiesque twist to his lost-love tales near the end, a letter bringing one of them back and revealing lasting connections (but, Murakamiesquely too, the girl remaining entirely out of reach), and then a final, possible escape.
       It's nicely done, even ignoring all the play on Murakami's words and worlds and stories, a successful novel in its own right.
       There's more to Slow Boat than just story, too. Throughout, Furkawa explores writing and language, and the contrast to music. The limits of language frustrate -- as do the limits of reality, Furukawa frequently drawn here (like Murakami ...) into dream worlds.
       Right from the start he complains:
The Japanese language is nothing but lies. Or maybe just chaos.
       He attempts to impose order on it, but it remains a struggle. He notes:
Language has its limits, but it's all we've got. For understanding each other or misunderstanding each other or whatever. Besides, isn't life about limits ?
       His first grade-school girlfriend is hyperverbal -- she can't stop talking, words gushing forth, but with no resonance. But he actually, eventually gets it -- revelatory to her, too: "she can't believe she's actually communicating". The narrator, and the girls and women he is involved with, remain, or are repeatedly pushed back, to the fringe. Normality doesn't seem entirely out of reach -- indeed, the narrator occasionally comes close to traditional domesticity -- but any hold proves to be precarious. So even as he connects with that first girlfriend, greater powers separate them. As is also the case in the other cases: the world proves as arbitrary and uncontrollable as the dreams that also figure so prominently in his -- and some of their -- lives.
       At one of the stages of his life, the narrator reports:
     We invented a kind of language of our own. Words that fitted our needs.
       It seems to be an only temporary fix: more frequently, he notes the inadequacy of language -- so also: "I wonder if the Japanese language can do justice to my dreams now." But Slow Boat explores language beyond the merely strictly verbal level: a story isn't just words, and especially in the after-echoes of the familiar, Furukawa shows how much can be conveyed beyond the simple telling.
       Engaging with another author's work at a high -- and yet appropriately pop-culture ... -- level, Slow Boat proves rewarding in a surprising number of ways. Like Murakami, Furukawa presents the issues of interest and concern to him approachably, weaving them into his appealing (and Murikamiesque ...) episodes and stories. It makes for an enjoyable and thoughtful work.

- M.A.Orthofer, 15 March 2017

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Links:

Slow Boat: Reviews: Furukawa Hideo: Other books by Furukawa Hideo under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Japanese author Furukawa Hideo (古川日出男) was born in 1966.

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© 2017 the complete review

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