Yukiko’s Spinach

The protagonist is infatuated with both Japan and Yukiko, the woman modeling for his story. The photorealistic art, reminiscent of Strangehaven, can be stiff but also beautiful. The title, which comes from a Japanese pun for navel, show how the lead is obsessing over parts of Yukiko’s body — her navel, a scar on her forehead. (There’s nudity in the art and explicit sexual scenes.) She’s not a real person either to him or to us, since we only see through his limited eyes.

Yukiko's Spinach cover
Yukiko’s Spinach
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From the beginning, the protagonist comes off as needy and a bit obsessive, so I’m not surprised Yukiko doesn’t want to get involved with him permanently. He’s the one that proposes a brief interlude before another man returns to her, even though he knows going in that he’s not going to be satisfied, so I have little sympathy for him trying to settle for less. He commits the classic mistake when it comes to relationships like these. When you have limited time together, for whatever reason, you need to focus on the time you have. However, he’s already looking ahead to when she’s no longer there, and ignoring their good times together to focus on when she’ll be gone.

The artist is fond of montage techniques, where unconnected images follow each other to establish a setting. It sets up a first person perspective where the viewpoint can’t stay fixed on anything, a nervous person with eyes constantly darting. The book is mostly a sequence of images, not a flowing story. The obvious reason to read this is if you’d like to look at a lot of pretty pictures of a Japanese girl. Anything beyond that isn’t as well-developed as I’d hoped.

The publisher and author both have websites.

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4 Comments

  1. This is one of my favorite books of the past couple of years, yet I don’t disagree with anything you say in your second paragraph. But I will disagree with your idea that this book was not “well-developed”.

    In this book, the majority of the development of the main character is through his inaction. He stands frozen more often than he reacts, both physically and emotionally. The focus of the book matches the internal turmoil of the main character; it’s all about him. That’s why, while I would normally be turned off by the half-filled sketch that is Yukiko’s character, here it fits the main theme of the book perfectly.

    The protagonist and Yukiko may not share the emotion of love. The protagonist mostly has obsession, a one-sided emotion, and in the back of his mind he “knows” that it can never be more. The disconnect between his obessive fantasy and this loveless “reality” is what paralyzes him, causes him to look past the current joy into a future of despair, steeling himself for a hurt that he knows will come.

    In the end, the protagonist is a victim of his own self-fulfilling prophecy; he “knows” there is no love in “reality,” but does there really have to be no love, or is he just cutting love off as a self-protective measure before it can blossom? It sure doesn’t look like these two are compatible in anything but passion, but is he even trying to explore that road?

    The tangle of what he thinks will happen, what is actually happening, and what he fantasizes of is the heart of this book. Only during sex do these 3 paths cross to his satisfaction, the rest is too complicated for him to bear, and he locks up, watching his self-fulfilled disappointment come to pass.

    In my opinion, this book is one of the best depictions of emotional immaturity that I have ever read. The protagonist is unlikeable, I agree, but I can certainly relate to his struggle, and the emotional impact of the story is strong.

    As for how the story is told, through montages and sketches, I think that this approach further reinforces the viewpoint of the protagonist. In his head, he’s emphasizing tangled feelings over real events, and accordingly the book provides with more emotionally-laden imagery and less linear plot. As you say, his perspective is askew, he should be enjoying their time together, but he’s not, and the storytelling relects this. He’s not dealing with (or doesn’t know how to deal with) his emotions, so they overtake him and blur out reality.

    If you don’t care for the book because you can’t get into (or you dislike) the main character, that’s understandable. For that reason, for instance, I can’t stand to watch (the supposedly classic movie) “The Graduate” for the reprehensible protagonist that I can’t relate to at all.

    But I couldn’t resist defending one of the most well-crafted, beautiful, and emotional books that I have read in the past couple of years.

  2. What an excellent writeup! This kind of book is almost a relationship between the creator and reader, so I’m not surprised that two people could have such different responses. Thank you so much for sharing your interpretation in such depth!

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