The Woman in the Purple Skirt became one of the first contemporary Japanese novels I read a long time later. While it made me realize that I miss Japanese literature so much, it helped me realize that some Japanese authors are not exactly for me. The Woman in the Purple Skirt has turned into a book that I enjoy but, on the other hand, want to finish immediately. But let me state right away, because it is very short, it ends immediately, and in the end, it leaves a strange feeling. The book, which won the Akutagawa Prize in 2019, leaves the reader curious.
The Woman in the Purple Skirt tells a story of obsession and stalking that keeps people on their toes while offering a finely crafted critique of society. We watch the woman in the purple skirt through the eyes of the narrator we don’t know much about. This woman is a bit of an odd type, but she manages to grab everyone’s attention. Our narrator is also obsessed with this woman.
Every day she watches what she is doing, checks and takes notes. We listen to the places she wanders around in the neighbourhood, the dessert she eats diligently every week, the bench she sits on in the park, the attitude of the children towards this woman over time, and all the work she has left after working for a while. After a while, we, like the narrator, come under the influence of the woman with the purple skirt, and we wonder what she’s doing.
Although the narrator is dying to meet the woman with the purple skirt, she doesn’t know how to meet her. On the other hand, she observes that the woman has not been working for a long time and somehow finds a way to get her into the hotel where she works so that she can meet her as a colleague. But things change after the woman in the purple skirt starts working at the hotel.
Thanks to our narrator’s endless curiosity and obsession, we read how the woman in the purple skirt has changed and what her colleagues’ gaze upon her has suddenly become. Of course, in the meantime, we learn a lot about Japan and watch the dynamics between employees and management in a hotel. This story also exquisitely exemplifies the “blaming the victim” situation in Japan. We read in amazement what happens when women stand against each other rather than together.
I need to state right away; This book is not a book for everyone. I am sure the story will not appeal to most people at all, and the characters do not turn people’s heads, frankly. However, the curiosity about what will happen in the end never ends. I especially recommend it to readers who are interested in Japanese literature and culture. Enjoy!
The Woman in the Purple Skirt
A bestselling, prizewinning novel of obsession and psychological intrigue about two enigmatic unmarried women, one of whom manipulates the other from afar, by one of Japan’s most acclaimed young writers
Almost every day, the Woman in the Purple Skirt buys a single cream bun and goes to the park, where she sits on a bench to eat it as the local children taunt her. She is observed at all times by the undetected narrator, the Woman in the Yellow Cardigan. From a distance the Woman in the Purple Skirt looks like a schoolgirl, but there are age spots on her face, and her hair is dry and stiff. Like the Woman in the Yellow Cardigan, she is single, she lives in a small, run-down apartment, and she is short on money.
The Woman in the Yellow Cardigan lures her to a job where she herself works, as a hotel housekeeper; soon the Woman in the Purple Skirt is having an affair with the boss. Unfortunately, no one knows or cares about the Woman in the Yellow Cardigan. That’s the difference between her and the Woman in the Purple Skirt.
Studiously deadpan, highly original, and unsettling, The Woman in the Purple Skirt explores the dynamics of envy, the mechanisms of power in the workplace, and the vulnerability of unmarried women in a taut, voyeuristic narrative about the sometimes desperate desire to be seen.
Natsuko Imamura (今村 夏子, Imamura Natsuko, born 1980) is a Japanese writer. She has been nominated three times for the Akutagawa Prize, and won the prize in 2019. She has also won the Dazai Osamu Prize, the Mishima Yukio Prize, the Kawai Hayao Story Prize, and the Noma Literary New Face Prize.
Imamura was born in Hiroshima, Japan in 1980, and later moved to Osaka to attend university. She wrote her first story, a novella originally titled Atarashii musume (あたらしい娘, New Girl), while working a temporary job. Atarashii musume won the 26th Dazai Osamu Prize in 2010, and was published with her short story “Pikunikku” (“Picnic”) in one volume under the new title Kochira Amiko (こちらあみ子, Amiko Here), which then won the 24th Mishima Yukio Prize.
In 2017, Imamura received the 5th Kawai Hayao Story Prize for her 2016 book Ahiru (あひる). Ahiru was also nominated for the 155th Akutagawa Prize, but the prize went to Sayaka Murata. That same year Imamura won the 39th Noma Literary New Face Prize for Hoshi no ko (星の子, Child of the Stars), a book about a junior high school girl in a family that becomes increasingly involved in a new religious movement. Hoshi no ko was also nominated for the 156th Akutagawa Prize, but the prize went to first-time writer Shinsuke Numata.
In 2019, Imamura received her third Akutagawa Prize nomination, for her novel Murasaki no sukaato no onna (むらさきのスカートの女, The Woman in the Purple Skirt). The book, a first-person account of a woman watching her neighbour, won the 161st Akutagawa Prize. Imamura lives in Osaka with her husband and daughter.
Reading this book contributed to these challenges: