Your story in this week’s issue, “The Wind Cave,” is taken from your forthcoming novel, “Killing Commendatore.” In the rest of the novel, the narrator, as an adult twenty years later, is still haunted by the memory of his dead sister. Why do you think the loss was so scarring for him?
There are three types of emotional wounds: those that heal quickly, those that take a long time to heal, and those that remain with you until you die. I think one of the major roles of fiction is to explore as deeply and in as much detail as possible the wounds that remain. Because those are the scars that, for better or for worse, define and shape a person’s life. And stories—effective stories, that is—can pinpoint where a wound lies, define its boundaries (often, the wounded person isn’t actually aware that it exists), and work to heal it.
The most dramatic moment of the story is set inside a wind cave near Mt. Fuji. What made you choose that location?
I’ve always been fascinated by caves. I’ve visited numerous caves during my travels around the world. The Mt. Fuji wind cave was one of them.
The narrator’s sister, Komi, tells him that the characters in “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” really exist in the world. A theme in the story—and throughout the novel—is that blurring of the distinction between the real and the unreal. In fact, you could say that it’s a theme in a lot of your work. What keeps you coming back to the idea?
I ask myself the same question. When I’m writing novels, reality and unreality just naturally get mixed together. It’s not as if that was my plan and I’m following it as I write, but the more I try to write about reality in a realistic way, the more the unreal world invariably emerges. For me, a novel is like a party. Anybody who wants to join in can join in, and those who wish to leave can do so whenever they want. I think novels get their driving force from that sense of freedom.
When Komi goes—in a sense—down the rabbit hole, she discovers a perfectly round, hidden room. Does that room have a symbolic meaning for you? Or is she actually passing into another world?
My basic view of the world is that right next to the world we live in, the one we’re all familiar with, is a world we know nothing about, an unfamiliar world that exists concurrently with our own. The structure of that world, and its meaning, can’t be explained in words. But the fact is that it’s there, and sometimes we catch a glimpse of it, just by chance—like when a flash of lightning illuminates our surroundings for an instant.
Was “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” a reference point for you for the rest of the novel, too? Are you, like Komi, obsessed with Lewis Carroll?
I doubt there’s a child anywhere who hasn’t been enchanted by Lewis Carroll. I think children are drawn to him because the world he depicts is a completely self-contained, parallel reality. It doesn’t need to be explained; children can just experience it.
There are echoes of other works in the novel as well—from Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” to Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby” to “Bluebeard’s Castle.” Are you often inspired by other works while writing?
My original inspiration for the novel came from one of the stories in the late Edo-period collection “Tales of Spring Rain,” by Akinari Ueda, specifically a story about a mummy who comes back to life. For a long time, I’d been thinking of expanding that story into a full-length novel. I’d also been wanting to write something that would serve as an homage to “The Great Gatsby.”
Do you think of “Killing Commendatore” as a departure from your previous novels, or a continuation?
“Killing Commendatore” was the first novel in a long time that I wrote purely in the first person. Actually, what I felt, very strongly, was how much I’d missed writing in this way. It felt as if I were back in a playground I used to play in. I had a great time writing the book. Painstakingly filling in all the details was a process I thoroughly enjoyed.
(Answers translated, from the Japanese, by Philip Gabriel.)