Mild Vertigo (Paperback)
In this intoxicating stream-of-consciousness novel, Mieko Kanai tackles the existential traps of motherhood, marriage, and domestic captivity
The apparently unremarkable Natsumi lives in a modern Tokyo apartment with her husband and two sons: she does the laundry, goes to the supermarket, visits friends, and gossips with neighbors. Tracing her conversations and interactions with her family and friends as they blend seamlessly into her own infernally buzzing internal monologue, Mild Vertigo explores the dizzying reality of being unable to locate oneself in the endless stream of minutiae that forms a lonely life confined to a middle-class home, where both everything and nothing happens.
With shades of Clarice Lispector, Elena Ferrante, and Kobo Abe, this verbally acrobatic novel by the esteemed novelist, essayist, and critic Mieko Kanai—whose work enjoys a cult status in Japan—is a disconcerting and radically imaginative portrait of selfhood in late-stage capitalist society.
About the Author
Born in 1947, Mieko Kanai is a novelist, poet, essayist, and critic. She has published around thirty novels and short story collections, and her critical essays have been featured in Japanese newspapers and magazines for almost fifty years. In the English-speaking world, she is perhaps best known for her story “Rabbits,” a gory retelling of Alice in Wonderland where a young girl puts on a suit made of freshly skinned rabbit fur.
Polly Barton is a writer and Japanese translator based in Bristol. Her translations include Aoko Matsuda’s Where the Wild Ladies Are, Kikuko Tsumura’s There’s No Such Thing as an Easy Job, and Tomoka Shibasaki’s Spring Garden. In 2019, she won the Fitzcarraldo Editions Essay Prize for her debut book Fifty Sounds. Her second book, Porn: An Oral History, is forthcoming.
Kate Zambreno is the author of eight books, most recently the novel Drifts and a study of Hervé Guibert, To Write As If Already Dead.
For me, Mieko Kanai’s writing represents one of the high points of Japanese literature. The tiny details giving shape to the everyday, the daily repetitions, the memories that come suddenly flooding back, other people’s voices—all of these described in winding, iridescent prose. Their utter ordinariness, their utter irreplaceability, make for a reading experience brimming with joy from start to finish.
— Hiroko Oyamada
Mieko Kanai is not interested in describing objects; she wants to accentuate their amorphous nature.
— Sofia Samatar - The Paris Review
In the vertigo lurking at the depths of a very ordinary life, Mieko Kanai succeeds in uncovering the tranquility and cruelty that exist side by side.
— Yoko Ogawa, author of The Memory Police
Mild Vertigo is an immersive, uncanny narrative held taut over eight chapters that contrasts existing and living, seeing and viewing. An enthralling horror story about tedium that pushes the reader tight up against the unmanageable moments of everyday life and the domestic.
— David Hayden, author of Darker With the Lights On
A unique form of realism cultured from rhythmic, alert sentences that left my sense of the everyday altered, and made me desperate to read everything else Kanai has written.
— Holly Pester, author of Comic Timing
A dizzying, kaleidoscopic novel. Bold yet simple, quiet yet choric, Mild Vertigo brilliantly captures the noisiness of a lonely life.
— Aidan Cottrell-Boyce, author of The End of Nightwork
Mild Vertigo deftly captures the monotony of housework and the loss of self in family life, exploring a generalized sense of dissatisfaction with the options available to women in contemporary capitalism. Kanai’s beautiful and strange prose takes the reader inside the mind of a woman whose world is both mundane and disintegrating.
— Alva Gotby, author of They Call It Love
Laden with descriptions of objects and locations, Kanai’s detail-rich sentences offer a specificity of time and place. A subtle, thoughtful portrait of a woman chafing at the demands and constraints of domestic life.
— Kirkus Reviews
A sharp and sleek read that questions what is automated and what it means to be knowing, in a life compartmentalized into ribbons.
— Tice Cin
Mieko Kanai’s writing – encompassing fiction, poetry and criticism – has been sorely overlooked in the English-speaking world, so the new translation of her 1997 novel Mild Vertigo is a welcome arrival. The book is a surrealistic portrayal of quotidian middle-class life in late-20th century Japan.
— Marko Gluhaich - Frieze
Like Mrs. Dalloway, Mild Vertigo plunges the reader into the mind of a woman of comfortable means who is trying to make sense of her world even as she is bombarded by a tumult of impressions, memories, worries, constraints. My thoughts began to mimic the buzzy, galumphing rhythms of Natsumi’s interior world. I began to wonder whether I had always thought this way, whether this book was making me aware of the true nature of my mind for the first time. Such is the mesmerizing wonder of Kanai’s prose, as translated by Polly Barton.
— Claire Oshetsky - The New York Times
Mild Vertigo remains a short but monumental read that captures the human experience in fresh, evocative prose. Under Barton’s assured hand, the philosophical underpinnings of Natsumi’s worldview teeter into sight, fleeting yet profound.
— Kris Kosaka - Japan Times
The text generates urgency and momentum by recreating the experience, recognizable to most people, of constant motion and total immersion in information communicated by an overabundance of visual signifiers.
— Stephen Piccarella - n+1
We do all need homes; we all deserve clean, safe, warm, and welcoming ones. Mild Vertigo’s detailed attention and moments of beauty honor the work of creating such a space, and its steep descents into unhappiness and revulsion demonstrate the sometimes-staggering emotional cost of doing so. Of all the many things in Mild Vertigo to admire, perhaps the biggest one is that Kanai gets the paradox of domesticity right.
— Lily Meyer - The Atlantic
"Its great drama lies not in the events it recounts, but in its stylistic fidelity to mental experience."
— Doug Battersby - Times Literary Supplement
"It’s the observations of subtle minutiae that make Mild Vertigo an effortlessly intriguing read. Between a stream-of-consciousness-inspired prose, image patterns, and consistent pivots of thought, Kanai establishes the most surprising thing about this novel: its ability to make the vertiginous hypnotic."
— Gracie Jordan - The Rumpus
The greatest Japanese author you've never heard of…Mieko Kanai's gift is attention: attention to familial memory, to overheard conversation, to those small glints (sometimes a dagger, sometimes a gift) that can appear in conversations among friends.
— Declan Fry - ABC Arts