My Falling Down House
‘An unacknowledged gem: subtle, allusive, and deceptively ambitious.’ – The New York Times
‘My Falling Down House is a masterpiece’ – Anne Janowitz, Emerita Professor, Dept of English, Queen Mary University of London
‘This is a novel for anyone who has had a setback in life; for anyone who ever thought of escaping reality and retreating into the shadowy imagination. A beautiful exploration of identity by a hugely talented writer.’ – Eluned Gramich
‘Joso’s mastery lies in her ability to make a seemingly inaccessible scenario relatable. Takeo’s monologue is interspersed with beautifully eloquent metaphors and poetic breaks that make it easy to get lost in her narrative.’ – The Japan Society
Having lost his job and his home, Takeo Tanaka, a young Japanese man, takes refuge in a dilapidated wood and paper house. He sets himself projects in an attempt to hold on to his sanity and as recompense for trespassing and dwelling in a house for which he makes no payment. But with only a cat and a cello for company, his ability to distinguish between real and imagined events is soon deeply challenged, and he is ultimately held captive by his own paralysing suspicion of the outside world.
His fears and failing health keep him inside the house through four testing seasons, and he is driven to the edge of insanity as he pushes his creative abilities to keep himself occupied and retain his self-respect. He keeps notebooks, and attempts to map out the renovation work required on the house, constantly doubting his abilities but pushing his way through, endlessly searching for solutions. Building what he can out of the things he discovers inside the house, he permits his mind free reign to create and to mend.
When the shapeshifter (yokai) arrives, and begins to menace him, he is again made to doubt his sanity, and then also his sight, and his hearing. Questioning his previous life brings him to a point of crisis and he renegotiates his feelings towards a crippling modern world and all that this demands. As the seasons move on, he finds himself more and more deeply drawn into a relationship with nature and simple ways of living.
My Falling Down House by Jayne Joso is the Recipient of the Great Britain Sasakawa Foundation Award, given to a work of fiction or non-fiction which helps to interpret modern Japan to the English-speaking world.
‘Joso has given us a philosophical and critical look inside the mind of someone from the “underground” in Dostoevskian style... a “man with no more substance than a pencil drawing, an image scratched in sand”. Brought down to zero, and beginning to depart from his cultural self, Takeo starts to see things he could never have seen before. But can he handle total freedom from society? Set in contemporary Japan... it simultaneously speaks to contemporary globalizing society at large. A remarkable achievement.’ – Sho Konishi, Professor in Modern Japanese History; Director, Nissan Institute of Japanese Studies, University of Oxford