The Hole was the first book I’ve read by Japanese author Hiroko Oyamada, and I think it will be the last. I hadn’t read anything from the Japanese literature that I loved so much in a long time; When I saw the beautiful cover and exciting subject of The Hole, I couldn’t resist and started reading. This novella, which started very well, soon turned into something strange that I couldn’t figure out what.
The Hole tells the story of Asa, who has to settle in the countryside due to her husband’s job. Asa is not very upset when she leaves the city and her job. She is neither very interested in her work, in which she is not appreciated, nor in city life after all. They move to the house right next to their spouse’s family’s home because it is also her husband’s family’s, so they do not need to pay rent.
It takes Asa a very short time to get used to this new order. Since she is not working and there is not much to do in this rural place, she is thinking about how to fill her days. Then one day, she sees an animal she has never seen before in her life. She succumbs to her curiosity, and while chasing after the animal, she falls into a hole.
In terms of the title, The Hole made me think that Asa might find something in this hole she fell into. But this hole was just an ordinary hole filled with ridiculous insects. She is able to get out of the hole with the help of a woman who calls her “the bride”. When she meets this woman, a strange sequence of events begins. I say weird, though, but it’s not such a deep weirdness. Asa learns something interesting about her husband’s family, and it doesn’t change their everyday life in any way. Her husband continues to live as an apathetic and ordinary salaryman as usual. The book ends with the death of her husband’s grandfather.
In the end, The Hole was a book that left me little, nothing more than a bit of strangeness. If the author pursued symbolism with these holes, I could not understand. Other than the idiosyncratic quirks of the countryside, the rather unusual characters Asa encounters, and the strange animal poking holes here and there that no one can figure out what it is, the book offered me nothing. I wished that it was a little thicker, that it would make me think more of the relationship between a city woman and the countryside. The Hole was an interesting book, neither very good nor very bad. It may be of interest to genre enthusiasts.
Asa’s husband is transferring jobs, and his new office is located near his family’s home in the countryside. During an exceptionally hot summer, the young married couple move in, and Asa does her best to quickly adjust to their new rural lives, to their remoteness, to the constant presence of her in-laws and the incessant buzz of cicadas. While her husband is consumed with his job, Asa is left to explore her surroundings on her own: she makes trips to the supermarket, halfheartedly looks for work, and tries to find interesting ways of killing time.
One day, while running an errand for her mother-in-law, she comes across a strange creature, follows it to the embankment of a river, and ends up falling into a hole—a hole that seems to have been made specifically for her. This is the first in a series of bizarre experiences that drive Asa deeper into the mysteries of this rural landscape filled with eccentric characters and unidentifiable creatures, leading her to question her role in this world, and eventually, her sanity.
Hiroko Oyamada (小山田 浩子, Oyamada Hiroko, born 1983) is a Japanese writer. She has won the Shincho Prize for New Writers, the Oda Sakunosuke Prize, and the Akutagawa Prize.
Oyamada was born in Hiroshima and remained there throughout her school years, eventually graduating from Hiroshima University in 2006 with a degree in Japanese literature. After graduation Oyamada changed jobs three times in five years, an experience that inspired her debut story “Kōjō” (“Factory”), which received the 42nd Shincho Prize for New Writers in 2010. After her debut Oyamada worked a part-time editorial job at a local magazine, but quit after marrying a co-worker.
In 2013 Oyamada won the 30th Oda Sakunosuke Prize for a short story collection containing “Kōjō” as the title story. Later that year Oyamada’s novella Ana (The Hole), about a woman who falls into a hole, was published in the literary magazine Shinchō. Ana won the 150th Akutagawa Prize. One of the Akutagawa Prize judges, author Hiromi Kawakami, commended Oyamada’s ability to write about “fantasy in a reality setting.” In 2014 Oyamada received the 5th Hiroshima Cultural Newcomer Award for her cultural contributions. In 2018 Oyamada’s third book, a short story collection called Niwa (Garden), was published by Shinchosha.
Oyamada lives in Hiroshima with her husband and daughter.
Reading this book contributed to these challenges: