Rating: 4 stars
I enjoyed this introduction to the works of Akutagawa Ryūnosuke. The biographical chronology at the beginning was a useful introduction to the man. Haruki Murakami’s introduction made me smile – how keen he was to say that Akutagawa isn’t his favourite of Japan’s “National Writers”, before offering an opinion on where Akutagawa had gone wrong as a writer and, perhaps, in life. I enjoyed rereading The Nose, which I’d studied for A Level Japanese, and Dragon: The Old Potter’s Tale was fun, but my favourites are Hell Screen and Loyalty, perhaps because they are longer stories that explore human behaviour more fully, and Horse Legs, because it made me think of Kafka’s Metamorphosis. The final story included in the collection is Spinning Gears, which was published after Akutagawa’s death. It is an affecting piece of writing, as Akutagawa documents his inner feelings, particularly his fears of madness. It’s a sad note to end the book on, both in the sense that Akutagawa took his own life as this story hints might happen and in the sense that his writing was moving in a new direction but was cut short.