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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

I Called Him Necktie

Milena Michiko Flašar

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To purchase I Called Him Necktie

Title: I Called Him Necktie
Author: Milena Michiko Flašar
Genre: Novel
Written: 2012 (Eng. 2014)
Length: 128 pages
Original in: German
Availability: I Called Him Necktie - US
I Called Him Necktie - UK
I Called Him Necktie - Canada
I Called Him Necktie - India
La cravate - France
Ich nannte ihn Krawatte - Deutschland
Il signor Cravatta - Italia
  • German title: Ich nannte ihn Krawatte
  • Translated by Sheila Dickie

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Our Assessment:

B : well-executed; crushingly sad

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
FAZ . 11/2/2012 Anja Hirsch
The Japan Times . 13/9/2014 Tim Hornyak
TLS . 27/2/2015 Andrew Irwin
Die Zeit . 22/3/2012 Catharina Koller

  From the Reviews:
  • "Milena Michiko Flašars Geschichte gleicht einem Kammerstück, das nach dem Ein-Raum-Prinzip wenig Kulissenwechsel braucht und auf die Kraft des Ausdrucks setzt. Die Monologe entblößen zwei ganz persönliche Dramen." - Anja Hirsch, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "Flasar attempts to create honest, imperfect characters, but while they do have psychological depth, they often come off as cloying stereotypes. (...) Where Flasar shines is in style. The writing has been described as a prose poem, and the English translation by Sheila Dickie displays a lyrical sensitivity to language and form." - Tim Hornyak, The Japan Times

  • "This is a story about freedom and responsibility, and it results in an almost Sartrean meditation, highlighting the burden that is thrust on us by being present in a world of people and personal choices." - Andrew Irwin, Times Literary Supplement

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:

       I Called Him Necktie is narrated by Taguchi Hiro, barely out of his teens and taking his first tentative steps in the outside world again after spending some two years holed up in his room. He was (sort of) a hikikomori, described in the Glossary as a term describing:

Japanese youths who refuse to leave their parents' house, shut themselves in their rooms and reduce their contact with the family to the minimum.
       But looking back at his alone-time, Hiro admits:
I am not a typical hikikomori, I continued. Not like one of those in the books and articles that are put vy my door from time to time. I don't read manga comics. I don't spend the day in front of the television and the night in front of the computer. I don't build model airplanes. Video games make me feel sick.
       I Called Him Necktie is not a 'hikikomori-novel' -- and not just because most of the narrative deals with Hiro outside his room, rather than withdrawn within.
       Nevertheless, he did take a long time-out from real life, and coming out into the world again he's anything but quickly reintegrated. He still has issues. He's still not aything resembling a social being. While no longer locking himself in, he does retreat -- to a park bench during the day.
       It is here he meets another person who comes to spend his days on a park bench -- another outcast, Ohara Tetsu, a 'salaryman' (office drone) who was let go from his job but can't bear to tell his wife and pretends to still head off to work each day:
In the park he was the only salaryman. In the park I was the only hikikomori. Something was not quite right with us. He really should be in his office, in one of those highrises. I should stick to my room, within four walls.
       But while Hiro is (possibly) making the transition from hikikomori to normality, Tetsu has no office-job future any longer. Their similar situations, a limbo of displacement leaving them unsure of how to (re-)connect with those closest to them, brings them together. A friendship of sorts develops, and they also open up to each other; in his account -- this written narrative, after the fact -- Hiro also opens up a great deal more, revealing events from the past that led to his withdrawal.
       More than anything, the characters in I Called Him Necktie seem shaped and driven by a sense of shame. Shame is everywhere, from Tetsu's about losing his job to Hiro's parent's pretending their son is off in the United States, not hiding in his room during his hikikomori-stage. Saving face is important -- hence the lies -- but that does little to change the reality, whether of the lost job or the kid sulking in his room.
       Hiro has a lot of shame to deal with too, including his shameful behavior towards the neighbor-girl he used to play with (who, in turn, had her own shame-issues to deal with, ones which even academic excellence weren't enough to overcome). And another close childhood friendship that didn't last, with a boy named Kumamoto, also left tremendous baggage for him to deal with.
       If shame is the overriding mindset in I Called Him Necktie, Flašar hammers her story home by pouring on the tragedy. The blows Hiro and Tetsu have had to deal with are devastating. Yes, Tetsu has his loving wife, and Hiro has parents who, if somewhat hapless, want to be supportive, but other significant figures are ripped from their lives -- to the point where the novel comes to feel manipulatively sentimental.
       Too much here is too reductionist -- the worst possible outcome, quickly reached. And it happens more than once. It easily explains why Hiro retreated into his shell: these are blows it would take anyone a good deal of time (and extensive therapy, if possible) to absorb and deal with. (They also suggest Hiro is, at best, a faux-hikikomori, his condition not a specifically Japanese one (despite its root causes generally being rooted in specifically Japanese issues) but rather an all-too-human reaction to horrible events).
       I Called Him Necktie covers a lot of Japanese societal flaws -- most obviously regarding matters that bring shame (though, arguably, they often shouldn't), but also the striving for uniformity and conformity -- not standing out or being different --, as well as the embrace of suicide as a way out -- but ultimately the novel presents and addresses all of these too directly. Despite Flašar's fine stylized writing -- this is a very well-written book -- there's little nuance here. A redemptive conclusion seems to offer hope -- at least for Hiro -- but the (devastating) path there isn't entirely convincing.
       In its extremism -- this is as no-holds-barred a tearjerker as I've ever come across -- it arguably overplays its hand: for all the sympathy a reader might have for the characters, it's hard not to feel manipulated in the end. It makes for an odd, limited sort of success: this is a fine and certainly very moving book, but one that relies too much on rather cheap tricks for effect and thus doesn't convince quite as much as it otherwise might or should.

- M.A.Orthofer, 22 August 2014

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I Called Him Necktie: Reviews: Milena Michiko Flašar: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Austrian-Japanese author Milena Michiko Flašar was born in 1980.

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