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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Diary of a Void

Yagi Emi

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To purchase Diary of a Void

Title: Diary of a Void
Author: Yagi Emi
Genre: Novel
Written: 2020 (Eng. 2022)
Length: 213 pages
Original in: Japanese
Availability: Diary of a Void - US
Diary of a Void - UK
Diary of a Void - Canada
Frau Shibatas geniale Idee - Deutschland
Il diario geniale della signorina Shibata - Italia
Diario de un vacío - España
from: Bookshop.org (US)
  • Japanese title: 空芯手帳
  • Translated by David Boyd and Lucy North

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Our Assessment:

B+ : great premise, well done

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Japan Times . 13/8/2022 Kris Kosaka
The NY Times Book Rev. . 7/8/2022 Lauren Oyler
Publishers Weekly . 28/6/2022 .

  From the Reviews:
  • "At the heart of the story is Yagi's wry and witty consideration of how one woman, tangled up in a web of deceit, struggles to live a meaningful life through work and her relationships with others. (...) Diary of a Void does not focus solely on the issues women grapple with at work; it invites conversations about the expectations both men and women face, as a part of Shibata's growth stems from her developing empathy for a male colleague who is bullied at work but perseveres nonetheless. The novel is also more than a commentary on Japanese work culture." - Kris Kosaka, The Japan Times

  • "If occasionally heavy-handed (...) Yagi has a light touch for the endless ironies made possible by her premise. There is humor (“since I got pregnant” becomes a delightful refrain), but also the realization that the alienation of pregnancy and motherhood is no reprieve from the oppressive office culture that inspires Shibata’s experiment." - Lauren Oyler, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Absurdist, amusing and clever, the story brings subtlety and tact to its depiction of workplace discrimination -- as well as a touch of magic. Readers will eagerly turn the pages all the way to the bold conclusion." - Publishers Weekly

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:

       Diary of a Void has an inspired premise: annoyed by how the nameless little tasks in her office -- making coffee (and cleaning up afterwards), buying supplies, replacing the ink and paper in the copy machine, and the like -- all fall on her shoulders, Shibata one day begs off by claiming to be pregnant. The ruse is so immediately successful, freeing her from the mindless tasks that have nothing to do with her job and convincing her superiors to even let her go home at a reasonable hour, that she keeps it up -- indeed, sees it all the way through.
       Diary of a Void is narrated by Shibata, the chapters titled after her progressing would-be pregnancy, beginning at 'Week 5', then 'Week 7', all the way through 'Week 40' (with a coda-chapter, 'Twelve Months Later' finishing things off). She embraces her phantom pregnancy, first simply because it makes life easier, from being able to get home at a reasonable hour -- when there's still fresh food on the shelves at the local market ! -- to being able to avoid many of the small tasks at work that had previously been made her responsibility. As the weeks go by, she immerses herself in it more fully, from loading a Baby-N-Me app on her phone, to follow the different stages she (and the fetus) were supposed to be at, week by week, to getting a maternity badge to identify herself as pregnant publicly (and make it easier for her to get a seat on public transport), to signing up for an expectant-mothers aerobics class to stay fit.
       Shibata works for a paper core manufacturer -- a kind of business she had not even known existed when she applied for the job -- and while she took to it at first, especially after her experiences at her previous job ("I thought I was in heaven. No impossible quotas, no calls from clients waking me up in the middle of the night"), she does come to realize it's kind of a grim place: "Everyone looked ill -- like they were having liver problems". The hours are long, and much of the work -- and especially the meetings -- pointless. And when she gets saddled with the incidental tasks like making coffee or sorting and delivering the cards that come to the office at New Year's it really weighs down on her. She has to admit:

     The office was a swamp. Not a deep one. But one that let off a weird-smelling gas all year round.
       Pregnancy turns out to be a kind of release, in particular as to how she is treated and what is expected of her at work. (Her superiors -- all male , of course -- are amusingly described as completely clueless about what pregnancy involves.) Surprisingly, not many co-workers take any great interest in her pregnancy, beyond now treating her as more delicate, not to be burdened with unnecessary tasks. Already right at the outset, she got a glimpse of what this new situation meant:
     So this is pregnancy. What luxury. What loneliness.
       Only one co-worker takes particular interest in her pregnancy, badgering her about what she plans to name the child, for example. As it turns out, they all know very little about each other -- and basically no one pries. Domestic and professional life are kept almost entirely separate.
       It all makes for both an interesting tease of a novel -- Shibata's pregnancy seems to become increasingly real -- as well as commentary on Japanese society and attitudes towards work, women, and motherhood. The personal distance, in particular, is striking: Shibata isn't really close to anyone -- there's no boyfriend in the picture, and she doesn't tell her family about either the ruse or the reality -- and those she does engage with more closely, such as then the other expectant mothers doing aerobics, almost all maintain a certain distance when it comes to private matters.
       There's a neat mix of illusion and reality here, and Yagi draws Shibata into this ever-more tangible fantasy very nicely -- not least, in week 23:
     As I wrote in my notebook, I wondered: How many other imaginary children were there in the world ? And where are they now ? \What were they doing ? I hoped they were leading happy lives.
       It's a sly piece of work, and Shibata a quite fascinating character, both showing considerable forthright independence yet also letting herself get caught up in what starts off as complete fantasy. Yagi navigates the pregnancy very well too, right down to its resolution, in this clever (though certainly not flattering) take on contemporary Japanese society and its attitudes towards work and family.

- M.A.Orthofer, 2 August 2022

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Diary of a Void: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Japanese author Yagi Emi (八木詠美) was born in 1988.

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© 2022 the complete review

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