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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Akasaka Mari

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To purchase Vibrator

Title: Vibrator
Author: Akasaka Mari
Genre: Novel
Written: 1999 (Eng. 2005)
Length: 155 pages
Original in: Japanese
Availability: Vibrator - US
Vibrator - UK
Vibrator - Canada
Vibrations - France
Vibration - Deutschland
DVD: Vibrator - US
  • Japanese title: ヴァイブレータ
  • Translated by Michael Emmerich
  • Vibrator was made into a film in 2003, directed by Hiroki Ryuichi

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Our Assessment:

B : effective spin on the finding-oneself-on-a-road-trip story

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Financial Times . 4/6/2007 Andrew Lee
The Guardian . 12/3/2005 Jon Courtenay Grimwood
The Guardian D 8/4/2006 Catherine Taylor
The Independent . 10/6/2005 Victoria James

  From the Reviews:
  • "Despite its lurid marketing -- the hot pink cover and lime green text -- its theme is not erotic, but psychological. It is a novel about self-discovery. () In Vibrator, Rei reflects on how modern girls are stronger than she had been at school. At 31, she is trapped between the traditional expectation to be a good wife and wise mother, and the world of girls like Lui who are pushing the boundaries of sexuality and liberation." - Andrew Lee, Financial Times

  • "Mari Akasaka's third novel Vibrator has nothing to do with sex toys, and everything to do with the resonance set up by memory. () What begins as a moment of genuine madness brought on by loneliness and desperation becomes a fractured love affair that evolves into a job () Look, Mari Akasaka seems to be saying, a love affair between a bulimic middle-class journalist and an ex-Yakuza thug is no more unlikely than anything else in this country. We've become so lonely and isolated that we have to take connection where we can find it." - Jon Courtenay Grimwood, The Guardian

  • "Unfortunately, Mari Akasaka's quasi-existential novel is so claustrophobic that the result is a turgid, though mercifully brief, read. Rei's staccato, highly self-indulgent stream-of-consciousness observations irritate rather than captivate, and obscure the beautiful yet all-too-infrequent descriptions of the desolate landscape through which she is travelling." - Catherine Taylor, The Guardian

  • "Vibrator -- the title refers to the vibrations of the chassis, and perhaps the resonance Rei feels with the trucker and his fellows -- has been turned into a top-notch film. The book is every bit as good. Having a journalist heroine allows Akasaka to indulge her love of wordplay." - Victoria James, The Independent

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:

       Vibrator is narrated by Rei, a young journalist who is so isolated and wrapped up in herself that she hears voices. "Spiraling through my head, my own thoughts harass me," she complains -- and, of course, voices in one's head are notoriously difficult to get rid of. Vibrator recounts the strange trip she takes to assuage them.
       Rei is moderately successful at her job -- "my name started attracting the attention of a particular crowd" -- but she doesn't seem to have any social or family life, and isn't making things easy on herself. She's an insomniac, frequent binge-drinker, and enthusiastic bulimic (or, more accurately, as she insists, a bulimarexic). She does explain that throwing up helps her get a good night's sleep, but the trade-offs she's making don't seem to be leaving her better off. She does make excuses -- "In a man's world, it's easier to get by as a woman like this" -- but even she doesn't seem entirely convinced that she's doing the right thing.
       Rei is isolated, without anyone to really talk to (hence, presumably, also the voices in her head), her excesses (booze, vomiting) very private ones. She veers between completely self-absorbed indifference and caring about what people think (especially about her appearance), and she is a bit concerned about what is becoming of her:

I'm my own person, I think, but even then in some other corner of my brain I'm thinking, I can stop this, but maybe if I don't act now, it'll be too late.
       She may not have hit rock bottom, but she's certainly in danger of plunging ever-faster in that downward spiral. Part of the problem is how limited her world has become, as a late-night run to the local store -- finding there perhaps the closest thing to 'family' she has, as she knows which employees are on which shifts -- shows:
     Walking like some kind of robot, I aimed for the exit. Only the door was bright; everything else had dissolved into darkness. The automatic door slid open. Two in the morning, Tokyo under a March snow.
       But it's out here that she finds the possibility of turning things around, as she gets into the truck of a man she encountered in the store. It immediately offers her a new perspective:
Maybe it had something to do with the windshield, which was larger and more curved than thatof a regular car -- everything in my field of vision seemed to have widened.
       It's a start, and taking off with the trucker, Okabe, proves to be just the thing she needed. Vibrator is a very laid-back road trip novel. The two of them drive, talk, have sex, tell each other about their lives. Okabe was a yakuza-in-training as a teen but grew bored of it, and has settled on this trucking life. He's married, too, -- and there's a woman who obsessively stalks him -- but seems to pretty much take things as they come (including Rei).
       It's a limited foray into the world at large -- they get around, but it's still like they're in a sort of cocoon. There's some communication with the outside world as they play around a lot on the CB, but between the limited range of the radio, the handles (fake names), and even a voice converter allowing Rei to pretend she is Okabe over the CB they're hardly dealing with the outside world head-on. Still, even though they drive in what amounts to a big circle, it does get Rei somewhere.
       Rei gets to the roots of some of her problems, too, as she recounts her childhood -- a time when: "The simple fact of existence made me disintegrate" already, a lot for a schoolgirl to try to deal with. She even asked to be sent to a psychiatrist, but that's not what her parents wanted to hear ("in an instant the warm, pleasant aura that had hung in the air around my mother vanished" when she brings it up). It's this simple road trip with this straightforward stranger that finally has the therapeutic effect she's been looking for for so long.
       Somewhat extreme in what ails Rei, somewhat simple in how neatly everything fits together, Vibrator nevertheless is a fairly effective and well-crafted story of isolation in the contemporary (Japanese) world.

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Vibrator: Reviews: Vibrator - the film: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Japanese author Akasaka Mari (赤坂真理) was born in 1964.

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© 2007-2021 the complete review

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