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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

    

One Love Chigusa

by
Shimada Soji


general information | our review | links | about the author

To purchase One Love Chigusa



Title: One Love Chigusa
Author: Shimada Soji
Genre: Novel
Written: (Eng. 2020)
Length: 115 pages
Original in: Japanese
Availability: One Love Chigusa - US
One Love Chigusa - UK
One Love Chigusa - Canada
  • Translated by David Warren

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Our Assessment:

B : quite cleverly turned existential science fiction tale

See our review for fuller assessment.




The complete review's Review:

       One Love Chigusa is set in Beijing near the end of the twenty-first century and begins with its protagonist, twenty-five-year-old Xie Hoyu, involved in a devastating motorcycle accident, his body: "crushed, torn to pieces and scattered around", with only his head and torso: "held together in their original form". Medical science and technology are so advanced that, with an ambulance crew conveniently coming quickly onto the scene, Xie can be saved -- not so much pieced together as patched, with prosthetic legs and arms, artificial blood vessels, eyeballs made of resin lenses and a mechanical sensor for smell; devices are also installed in his brain, with a Quantum memory drive able to hold and transfer his memories so that he retains most of the memories of his former self (though the technology isn't quite up to capturing all the memories, especially non-visual ones like touch and smell). He is a: "patient with an unprecedented number of mechanical parts", but, after intensive rehabilitation, essentially should find himself restored to more or less his old self, as good as new.
       Xie is now a man-machine, but all the machine parts merely replace the damaged human parts and replicate their functions; the idea is that he is not just made whole again but basically can pick up exactly where he left off, unchanged. And that mostly seems to work -- except that he seems to have become: "a person devoid of all passions", especially regarding human contact, and the opposite sex. And among the things he does recall are the events leading up to the accident, including a heated argument with his then-girlfriend and her storming out, telling him: "It's over".
       Xie is a magazine illustrator, drawing women's portraits to order. His boss want him back on the job as soon as he is able again, but sends him home soon again after getting a sample of Xie's new work: "Is that how you actually see that girl ?" he asks. Xie finds the picture in question drawn properly, but obviously there's a disconnect here; indeed, Xie no longer sees most people normally; instead, they appear to him with hideous and terrifying demon faces.
       Xie finds himself fundamentally changed -- specifically in his apprehension of the world:

Yes, this was the reality. What he had observed until then was an illusion. Xie realised that he could now see everything for what it really was.
       This new way of seeing is a problematic gift -- because, as Xie sees, the world is an ugly place, and filled with ugly people. But, sitting in a coffee shop, he glimpses a woman who is completely different from everyone else, so remarkable that she is enough to give him a reason for living. He becomes obsessed with her -- first with tracking her down, which proves difficult enough, and then getting to know her (including learning what she is called -- Chigusa). But he manages, and they even become a couple, Xie elated that he has found the perfect person to be with -- indeed, the only person he can imagine being with.
       Of course, even when he first glimpsed her, Xie wondered: "What was the difference between her and the other women ?" and it shouldn't come as much of a surprise that there is, in fact, something fundamental that sets her so apart. Shimada hints at some of this in her behavior, as Chigusa has more than a few quirks, but the understanding and besotted Xie doesn't concern himself with too much and long remains oblivious of her fundamental nature. Obviously, however, at some point Xie is due for a shock to the system when all the pieces fall into place regarding the love of his life.
       Along the way, Xie also occasionally hears voices, which no one else hears. Strange combinations of words repeated, such as: "Thunder. Kite, kite, kite. Thunder, electricity, kite, Benjamin Franklin" -- and a word which he realizes is freighted with also ominous meaning: "Aryan. Aryan." He wonders about what he hears -- and why he is hearing it -- but no easy, obvious explanations are at hand.
       For all of Xie's new-found ability to see the world as it is, it turns out that, while he might have considerably more insight than the rest of humanity, he doesn't see -- or at least understand -- everything quite as clearly as he believes. There's actually a whole lot more to it -- and eventually more of the curtain is lifted for Xie (and the reader).
       One Love Chigusa is very much a work of science fiction but, for much of the book, only minimally concerned with the science fiction aspects. Technological advances allow for the initial premise -- a cyborg-ized Xie -- but the world Xie moves in, in the last decade of the twenty-first century, closely resembles our contemporary one, with only a few obvious everyday technological advances (driverless buses, for example). Otherwise, the world seems surprisingly unchanged -- he works as an illustrator for magazines, for heaven's sake .....
       Xie's changed state would seem to allow him to see things (and people) for how they really are, but, in Shimada's presentation, function equally as reflections of Xie's existential doubts -- and he has a lot of those, from when he's still in the early stages of his recovery:
If there was a god, he needed to send Xie a message explaining why he existed, what his purpose was and how he should keep on living in this world. What reason was there ? He wasn't capable of anything.
       The existence of a being like Chigusa is something he can find hope and meaning in, and dedicate himself to -- but he still can't fully shake his fundamental issues:
A sense of futility steadily occupied his mind and overwhelmed his feelings. He couldn't find any meaning in his actions. His body was without energy. Even that was meaningless. What he was doing, like everything else, was completely pointless. No matter how many times you talked about 'meaning'.
       Much of One Love Chigusa centers on Xie's obsession with Chigusa, and how he essentially stalks and then connects with her. Here Shimada's novel barely employs any bits of science fiction: much of the action could happen at almost any time, under any circumstances. So also Xie's fundamental issues -- of finding meaning in (his) life, and of his relationship with women (his experiences have not been good: "Whatever he said, they screamed, got angry and thought only of themselves") -- are not specifically tied to the conditions of this particular time (and, indeed, are in many ways universal and timeless). For much of the novel, the setting -- the 2090s -- and any advances or changes from our times are almost incidental; the setting (so also this Beijing) is very much background. But in its resolutions -- and there are several, as Shimada's fiction (and the world it describes) has several layers to it -- the science fiction does come significantly, and quite effectively, into play.
       The novella-length One Love Chigusa does sit a bit uneasily between stretched-out story and would-be novel. The bulk of the story, focusing on Xie's obsession with Chigusa, would seem to fit comfortably into a story-length and -format work, while Shimada's underlying plot -- of which only bits surface for much of the work, until the conclusion -- seem deserving of more expansive treatment, making one wish for a truly novel-length work that explored more of this.
       More detail about Xie's background, and especially his experiences with women, might also have served the novella: a nightmare Xie has, in which he imagines his mystery woman revealing her identity, suggests how useful additional material would have been elsewhere too. It also might have helped blunt or better explain the otherwise very casual sexism rife in the work -- down to unfortunate observations such as: "His boss was a man, but nagged like a woman" -- and the creepier elements of Xie's obsession. (Xie shows some awareness of the necessity of avoiding outright or too obviously stalker-ish behavior, but the blindness of his passion, his absolute veneration of Chigusa as one-and-only, is obviously problematic too.)
       While it's hard to shake the feeling that One Love Chigusa would have worked better as either a much more compact or a much longer work, it's still a solid and quite compelling piece of fiction. Shimada is (mostly) less interested in world-building -- beyond the medical-technical advances, the story mostly unfolds in a world very much like our own -- than in exploring fundamental existential questions and issues -- but he provocatively adds one more complicating (cum clarifying) layer to make for a more satisfying (and unsettling) overall picture and conclusion.

- M.A.Orthofer, 2 August 2020

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Links:

One Love Chigusa: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Japanese author Shimada Soji (島田荘司) was born in 1948.

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© 2020 the complete review

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