Fumiko Enchi Kirkus Reviews - Essay

Kirkus Reviews

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Subtle, challenging work from one of Japan's most respected (and oldest) female novelist/scholars: though [Masks] is quite short, a Western reader may feel at sea through much of it—what with learned references to Nō drama masks or an included-in-full essay written by one of the characters about female shamanism as a theme in The Tale of Genji. But, for the patient reader, the story will gradually become clear and powerful—as a tale of women's capacity for blackest revenge. Togano Meiko, a poet and mother of the recently killed Akio (and of Akio's retarded twin sister, Harume), toys with the emotional leash of Akio's young widow, Yasuko. Two potential suitors, Ibuki (who's married) and Mikame (single), vie for her—but Meiko orchestrates their affections to the point of manipulation. Finally, then, there'll be an intricate, hidden maneuver by which Yasuko becomes only the stand-in for the idiot Harume—who will be impregnated by one of the men in order that Meiko can have, by proxy, the child she always wanted most: Akio's. And it is Meiko's absolute amorality of revenge that Enchi makes so startling here, giving subtle tints to the explicit shamanism theme: "Just as there is an archetype of woman as object of man's eternal love," reads part of Meiko's essay, "so there must be an archetype of her as the object of his eternal fear, representing, perhaps, the shadows of his own evil actions." Fiction of feminine psychology/mythology, almost imperceptively woven—in a difficult but echoing pattern that is light-years away from the cruder approaches of writers like Angela Carter.

A review of "Masks," in Kirkus Reviews, Vol. LI, No. 4, February 15, 1983, p. 196.