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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Winter Sleep

Kitakata Kenzo

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To purchase Winter Sleep

Title: Winter Sleep
Author: Kitakata Kenzo
Genre: Novel
Written: 1996 (Eng. 2005)
Length: 282 pages
Original in: Japanese
Availability: Winter Sleep - US
Winter Sleep - UK
Winter Sleep - Canada
  • Japanese title: 冬の眠り
  • Translated by Mark Schilling

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Our Assessment:

B : moody and intense, a bit heavy on the arty talk

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Japan Times A- 10/4/2005 Carl Shuker

  From the Reviews:
  • "The novel in synopsis could easily amount to a kind of catalog: dinners eaten, beers drunk, emotionless sex acts barely enjoyed, multimillion-yen sales. But then there are periods of painting, composition. These present, as do ellipses in text, holes in the narrative, periods of abstraction and transport (.....) Kitakata, superb stylist that he is and very much in control of his material, puts his utterly uninvolved narrator to the test toward the end of the novel. (...) Synopsis is simply not up to conveying the odd, edgy, simultaneously puritan and Dionysian energy of this baffling and refreshing novel." - Carl Shuker, The Japan 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:

       Winter Sleep is narrated by a well-known painter, Masatake Nakagi. Recently released from prison, where he served three years for killing a man, he now lives and works in a cabin provided to him by a patron of sorts. Nakagi is happy to live in this near-solitude, and though for a while he at least takes some meals at the nearby company villa, for the most part he prefers to live according to his own needs and rhythms. Drinking, jogging, whittling, all carefully dosed, are part of his routine. As is painting, though the desire and ability to paint come and go with less regularity -- and he can't really force it.
       Several people do enter his life here. Natsue Kosugi drops by on occasion, sometimes taking one of his paintings and selling it for enormous sums, or bringing him the proceeds which he has little use for. (Even out of sight, he seems to grow in stature and fame as a painter.)
       A teenager, Akiko Tsukada, who would like to paint, stays at the company villa for a few days and comes under the artist's spell, eventually returning for the winter, staying close to and trying to learn from Nakagi.
       There is also Nomura, a journalist who has written several non-fiction books and wants to write more about Nakagi. Not getting anywhere with him, he eventually brings another man who has killed, Koichi Oshita, along on a visit to Nakagi's. It's not the best of ideas: not surprisingly, someone winds up dead.
       Nakagi remains aloof and distant, concerned above all else with his art -- and with art in general. He points Akiko (and Oshita) in the best direction he can, but his helpfulness is limited to allowing them to find their own way as artists. He, meanwhile, also stumbles along, painting when (and what) he can. He has great success -- so, certainly, it seems from the reactions (and cash) he gets from the outside world -- but that's of little interest to him. He lives only for art, unable to fully embrace personal relationships.
       Akiko and Oshita are damaged, incomplete souls, but they complement one another (each also perhaps providing the other with something that Nakagi can't). Painting together -- which even Nakagi recognises as a problematic solution -- they can create what each is incapable of by themselves. But it's not a healthy situation, and with a murder inquiry closing in on this quiet, secluded spot there is a growing sense of an imminent catastrophe.
       Winter Sleep is a novel of routine and repetition, Nakagi focussed on his routines -- jogging, etc. -- but that often jarred by impulsiveness (and the sudden appearance of others on the scene). Throughout the book, there's a great deal of dialogue and meditiation on art and the creative process. It's quite ably done, but painting is difficult to convey in writing, and with the weight of so much of it here it's not entirely convincing.
       Constant repetition of descriptions of fire (the burning logs in the fireplace) or Nakagi sharpening his knife, or the variations on his jogging, are more evocative and effective, though ultimately the pay-off doesn't seem quite enough for the mood Kitakata has tried to build up.
       Nakagi's intensity is hard to sustain, and a burden for the book. Keeping himself at a distance -- and turning to drink in order to lose all sense when things encroach too close -- Nakagi also keeps his story and the others who play a part in it at a distance, ultimately diminishing the force of it. A solid effort, but not entirely a success.

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Winter Sleep: Reviews: Other books by Kitakata Kenzo under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Japanese author Kitakata Kenzo (北方謙三) was born in 1947. He has written an enormous number of novels.

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