The Lake is essentially an entire novel that revolves around one relationship: the small, intricate and intimate details. There isn’t any ongoing or recurring drama to drive it, there isn’t really any passion.
It didn’t fill me with a burning hatred, or even dislike for the book. It didn’t cause me to want to hunt down the author and demand that they compensate me for the time I spent reading their novel. It didn’t even push me to the point of rethinking my “must finish all books” policy.
But it didn’t excite me either. It didn’t get my blood pumping with any pretense of mystery or action. It didn’t fill me with love for the characters, perhaps just a small fondness, similar to that you might develop for a stranger you occasionally cross paths with. I didn’t turn the pages out of desperation, needing to know what happens next. The writing style was poetic and lovely. The characters were somewhat interesting, but overall it didn’t feel like the book was about anything more interesting than the initial stages of a relationship, the everyday details behind falling in love, and the gradual revealing of past lives.
The story begins with Chihiro, a young woman who has grown up in a very unconventional family in Tokyo. Her parents never married, due to her father’s family not approving of her mother. Chihiro has very different world views from her parents, and in many ways resents their acceptance of their lifestyle.
After caring for her mother through a terminal illness, and losing the battle, Chihiro turns to the comfort of her “neighbour” across the road, Nakajima. They have an odd relationship, becoming close without even speaking to each other, just waving from their windows day by day. But then again, they are rather odd themselves, so the relationship suits them quite well.
“Neither of us realised what was happening. That simply by keeping an eye on each other, without even giving it any thought, just by noticing the sound of a certain window sliding open, we were already starting to fall in love.”
Chihiro holds back when it comes to relationships, refusing to fall in love, scared by her parents experience and her own life growing up. Nakajima is damaged, frightened, and neurotic. But their gradual transition from waves through their windows, to chats on the street, to coffee… it works for them both because they could not possibly begin a relationship unless they eased into it as slowly as possible.
Nakajima’s “terrible past” is alluded to, but never with much detail until the last chapter of the book. Even this event, the biggest and most dramatic in the novel, has very little build up with only small hints that make you feel like you can calmly and slowly read through and perhaps find out, rather than causing a desperate need to know.
” “I hope whatever it is isn’t still an issue. Oh, I think it is – I feel it. I’m just hoping it’s not so bad that he can’t go on living with it. And hey, he’s made it this far, right? Maybe everything will be fine and it’s just a matter of going on with his life, treating it as gently as possible.” I spoke like I was praying. Please, I thought, keep living.”
Overall, I did enjoy the book. But I won’t be raving about it, and I won’t be telling everyone I see that they should read it. I do recommend it, but only with the caution that it is a very calm, slow and somewhat relaxing book. Its vaguely interesting, easy to read, and quite pretty in many places.