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‘Nails and Eyes’ book review: Unassumingly dark

‘Nails and Eyes’ book review: Unassumingly dark

In 2013, Kaori Fujino was awarded the Akutagawa Prize, Japan’s most prominent literary prize, for ‘Nails and Eyes’. Fujino, who holds an MA in aesthetics and art theory from Doshisha University, is best known for fiction that reimagines tropes of horror, urban legends, fairy tales, and science fiction. She was in residence at the University of Iowa’s prestigious International Writing Program in 2017. The English translation of her stories have also appeared in various publications.

Nails and Eyes is a slim book but you won’t be able to breeze through it because of its dark and dreary undertone. There are two additional stories of unsettled minds with eerie settings in the volume that I got. The three stories can all be slotted as horror but all of them deal with real people and the many problems in their lives. I especially liked the third story called ‘Minute Fears’ that revolves around the complexities of motherhood. The other two are equally good but I’m pretty sure everyone who reads this volume will have a favorite—perhaps one they will resonate with.

The main story is about a young girl who loses her mother and her father invites his lover to stay with them. He wants to marry her but they want to figure out whether they will work as a family before taking the leap. The woman tries to create a life for the three of them. She’s secretly relieved there’s a child in the picture and that she won’t have to get pregnant for a baby. It’s convenient that someone else has given birth to the three-year-old. But she’s unable to be comfortable around the girl and vice-versa. They have an amicable relationship at best. But the girl is watching the woman, tracking her every move, and there’s malice. The latter only realizes that when it’s too late.

 ‘What Shoko Forgets’ is set in a rehabilitation home. Shoko suffered a stroke and her memories are hazy. She’s being cared for by her oldest daughter and a disinterested granddaughter. She wants to go home and live comfortably on her couch. She feels she deserves that much at least now that her body is tiring and shutting down. But her daughter won’t listen and there’s someone who visits Shoko every night though everyone seems to be oblivious to it. Her memories of this disappear every morning and that’s concerning. Is it real or is she imagining the whole thing? You can never tell and the story stays in your mind long after you’ve read it.

Nails and Eyes is an interesting piece of literature, one that draws your attention to important themes like parenthood, aging, and isolation among others in a way that makes you think about them from different perspectives. It’s, hands down, unlike any other book I have ever read, in terms of how chilling it was. Fujino’s writing reminds me of Yoko Ogawa, another Japanese writer who has won almost every major literary prize in Japan including the Akutagawa Prize.


Nails and Eyes

Kaori Fujino

Translated by Kendall Heitzman

Published: 2023 (Original text: 2013)

Publisher: Pushkin Press

Pages: 138, Paperback