Yukiko Motoya is an established name in Japan. Having received the Kenzaburo Oe Prize, the Yukio Mishima Prize, the Akutagawa Prize (among other), she’s now a renowned multi-award winning author, a playwright and a theater director.
The Lonesome Bodybuilder, released in English this November by Soft Skull Press, is the long-awaited translation (by Asa Yoneda) of Motoya’s 2015 collection of eleven surreal short stories which will delight fans of Kafka or Neil Gaiman. If you enjoyed this year’s hit Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata (translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori), then this is an excellent follow-up to her deadpan critique of Japanese society.
Here we have a bizarre set of short stories, brimming with dark humor, that pack a feminist punch and address issues women across borders and generations can certainly relate to. As we read, we come to realize that no aspect of modern Japanese life is safe (for the mind at least) as Motoya skilfully questions what would happen if we take modern behavior to the extreme, holding up a mirror to some of the issues found in patriarchal Japan.
Motoya has been praised for her sensitivity and insight when writing about the psychology and struggles of young women and provides incisive explorations into domestic life. Most of the stories start in a mundane setting: a shop, a family home, the workspace, and become increasingly more surreal and occasionally dark.
Motoya skilfully questions what would happen if we take modern behavior to the extreme, holding up a mirror to some of the issues found in patriarchal Japan.
For example, in the titular “The Lonesome Bodybuilder,” a woman is ignored by her husband and feels she has nothing of her own or interesting in her life.
“Living with my perfectionist husband had made me think I was a person with no redeeming qualities. I’d acquired the habit of dismissing myself.” As a result, she decides to take up bodybuilding and quickly develops an obsession with the sport and her confidence increases tenfold. Her husband, however, doesn’t notice her goliath increase in size until the very end and the societal judgment she faces for her choices begin to isolate her.
Similar in tone, “An Exotic Marriage” features a housewife who is ignored by her husband each evening as he plays mindless games on his iPad, a habit, as it turns out, he has developed due to his need “to switch off.”
“It’s because you’re a housewife San. You can’t understand how men don’t want to have to think about things when we get home,” the gamer husband bluntly says. As she starts growing concerned at his increased lethargy at work, she’s also finding herself getting concerned that his