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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Bear and the Paving Stone

Horie Toshiyuki

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To purchase The Bear and the Paving Stone

Title: The Bear and the Paving Stone
Author: Horie Toshiyuki
Genre: Stories
Written: (2001) (Eng. 2018)
Length: 123 pages
Original in: Japanese
Availability: The Bear and the Paving Stone - US
The Bear and the Paving Stone - UK
The Bear and the Paving Stone - Canada
Le pavé de l'ours - France
  • Published in the collection 熊の敷石 (2001)
  • Translated by Geraint Howells
  • Akutagawa Prize (2000/II), for the title story

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Our Assessment:

B+ : nicely constructed appealing stories, shifting between and connecting past and present well

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Japan Times . 11/8/2018 Nicolas Gattig
The Straits Times . 13/2/2018 Akshita Nanda

  From the Reviews:
  • "Reminiscent of classic French literature, Horie’s prose is meandering but never aimless -- a series of observations that range from the life of Emile Littre, who compiled a landmark dictionary of the French language, to a Camembert-throwing contest in Normandy. The touch of the past, of history and personal memory, is always part of the present." - Nicolas Gattig, The Japan Times

  • "Horie's stories are about human connections and unpredictable encounters that lend a hallucinatory quality to everyday life." - Akshita Nanda, The Straits Times

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:

       The Bear and the Paving Stone collects three stories: the Akutagawa Prize-winning title story (熊の敷石), 'The Sandman is Coming' (砂売りが通る), and 'In the Old Castle' (城址にて). In each, memories and the past spill into the present: they are looks back -- fondly nostalgic as well as dark -- yet also connecting to the present.
       'The Bear and the Paving Stone' begins vividly ("the ground started to move beneath me, like a carpet of giant black caterpillars") but annoyingly -- a surreal dream-vision. Fortunately, the narrator soon wakes, and fortunately the remainder of the story is a largely straightforward realistic narrative, the Japanese narrator having come to visit an old friend, Yann, who has settled in a remote farmhouse in Normandy. The narrator wakes with an intense pain in his molar -- and at the end of the story a similar spasm of pain spikes into another vividly remembered scene, typical of what Horie does in all three stories, where past memories surge up and briefly drown out the present, echoing repeatedly as the stories unfold.
       'The Bear and the Paving Stone' is a relatively simple story: the narrator, who writes sample translations and synopses of foreign books for publishers, is in Paris for a few weeks and sees if he can get in touch with old friend Yann. He's surprised that Yann -- a freelancer obsessed by photography -- has given up his Paris atelier, but manages to reach him, and they arrange to meet -- halfway, first, before then deciding to head to Yann's new place.
       Throughout the story, the past comes up in various guises, from Yann's photographs to some discussion of the Holocaust (Yann is Jewish, and his family came from eastern Europe, but never spoke to him about their past) to the biography of lexicographer Émile Littré, responsible for the classic Dictionnaire de la langue française, the narrator is reading.
       There's also Yann's neighbor and landlady, who has a young eyeless son -- not just blind, but literally eyeless --, who in turn has an eyeless teddy bear, and there's the La Fontaine fable the narrator turns to (via Littré), which gives the story its title. (Also: Camembert-tossing competitions !)
       Horie weaves these things together nicely, with many of the small details cropping up repeatedly, a neat layering and interweaving of connections that give the story as a whole a more substantial feel: though everything seems so casual, spur of the moment, and almost haphazard, the underlying connections suggest a sturdy underlying essence.
       'The Sandman is Coming' finds the narrator in Japan, visiting a family on the occasion of the second anniversary of the death of a friend of his. The story focuses on him spending some time on the seashore with his friend's younger sister and her young daughter, reminding him of previous times together. He is much older than the woman -- he first met her eighteen years earlier, when he was at university, when he was twenty and she was six -- but they have sustained a comfortable relationship over the years; as he suggests:

I wouldn't go so far as to say she felt like a sister, but she definitely felt like a niece.
       They built sandcastles together -- and part of the pleasure she derived from it was their very impermanence:
She said that watching as something you'd worked so hard to build came crashing down at high tide was one of the things she enjoyed most.
       There's a sense of nostalgia, of course, and the dead brother and friend looms in the background -- as does a sense of so much else lost and washed away, toiled at over the years but leaving almost no trace. Here as throughout the collection, Horie layers on the symbolism thick, but in its back and forth between memories and the present-day day on the beach it's still quite effective.
       The final story, 'In the Old Castle', is the shortest, and begins with the narrator receiving a letter and old photograph of himself. The picture is from ten years earlier, when he had visited a friend in Normandy and they had explored a nearby old castle. and the story is mainly about the expedition -- from his traveling to see his friend (an outing like that in the first story, casually planned and almost disorganized) to their sneaking into the castle. The narrator found himself trapped -- more obviously than in the previous stories, but fundamentally, beyond the trappings of the trap (iron bars and everything), much the same. Indeed, the last line is a fine summing up for each of the stories, and the collection as a whole -- taken to its logical extreme:
It was as though I was trying to escape from every single unpleasant memory that humanity had ever experienced.
       The Bear and the Paving Stone is a fine trio of stories with a similar nostalgic feel to them. Horie layers his stories well, specifically in bringing together past and present -- even as the past is always distant and, in many ways, lost.
       Well worth a look, and the quick read they are.

- M.A.Orthofer, 6 March 2018

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The Bear and the Paving Stone: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Japanese author Horie Toshiyuki (堀江敏幸) was born in 1964.

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© 2018-2021 the complete review

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