By: Natsuko Imamura
Translator: Lucy North
Release Date: June 8, 2021
Publisher: Penguin Books
Received From: Publisher
(All reviews are our own, honest opinions.)
Natsuko Imamura’s debut English novel is a story that is at once a slow-burning character study and a tale of obsession and psychological intrigue. The Woman in the Purple Skirt has already won the prestigious Akutagawa Prize in Japan, which Imamura was previously nominated for twice before.
The enigmatic narrator of this award-winning tale refers to herself only as The Woman in the Yellow Cardigan. Her life is a lonely one, her days filled with going to work, struggling to pay rent and debts, and obsessively following the titular Woman in the Purple Skirt as she goes about her routine. The Woman in the Yellow Cardigan writes down everything the Woman in the Purple Skirt does from the most mundane of errands to her work habits and living arrangements. The narrator then begins leaving magazines in prime locations for the Woman in the Purple Skirt to find, certain job ads circled.
Slowly, the narrator pulls The Woman in the Purple Skirt into her own world, always staying in the shadows despite claiming to want to strike up a friendship. This is more than mere curiosity. Obsession drives the narrator, and plot, forward. The Woman in the Yellow Cardigan morphs from curious bystander watching the local eccentric to someone utterly obsessed with the mundane activities of another woman.
The story is slowly paced, more interested in character study than a driving plot. Even so, tension is pulled seemingly from thin air as things grow more and more unsettling. The questions readers initially have about The Woman in the Purple Skirt quickly shift, and suddenly, The Woman in the Yellow Cardigan is the one we have more questions about.
Much is said about the intersection of work life and private life as the novel progresses. Workplace gossip, the constant vying for higher positions and undermining of others are examined in detail from the gaze of a self-sidelining narrator. The tale of voyeurism and obsession consistently ratchets up the tension, eventually reaching one hell of an ending. Fans of psychological intrigue and psychological thrillers will find a whole lot to love in The Woman in the Purple Skirt. With luck, more of Imamura’s work will be translated into English, all of which will surely beloved spots on many bookshelves.