(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

The House of the Sleeping Beauties focuses on Yoshio Eguchi, aged sixty-seven, who visits an inn at a Japanese hot-spring resort in order to sleep beside one or another beautiful young woman. The establishment caters to elderly gentlemen who have lost their sexual powers, and the rules of the place explicitly forbid a customer to initiate sexual contact. A girl is drugged, stripped naked, and put to bed in a room hung with red velvet curtains before an old man sees her, and she remains asleep until her customer leaves the next morning. The five chapters of Yasunari Kawabata’s novella correspond to Eguchi’s five visits to the inn. They trace his search, through memories prompted by the presence of each of the six girls beside whom he sleeps, for understanding of his own imperfect nature and for acceptance of his eventual death.

Eguchi’s five visits to the inn occur from autumn to midwinter during a single year, reinforcing the metaphysical thrust of the novel. The girls next to whom he sleeps are alive, responsive to stimulus, but so heavily drugged that he cannot awaken them. Eguchi sees them as corpses; he calls their sleep a form of death. Sensitive to the color, texture, and scent of each girl’s body, he finds the experience of lying next to the girls a stimulus to his memory. The patterning of Eguchi’s recollections seems random, prompted by the process of association which causes him to think, for example, of the scent of a nursing...

(The entire section is 539 words.)