One woman obsessively tracks the movements of another.
The narrator of Japanese novelist Imamura’s deliciously creepy English-language debut likes to watch a woman in her neighborhood known as “the Woman in the Purple Skirt.” The Woman in the Purple Skirt doesn’t do anything particularly interesting. She sits on a bench in the park; she goes to the bakery; she is intermittently employed. But there’s something about her that makes it “impossible not to pay attention,” as the narrator explains. “Nobody could ignore her.” The same isn’t true of the narrator, who refers to herself as “the Woman in the Yellow Cardigan.” Gradually, as Imamura’s taut narrative unfolds, we realize just how much of her own life the narrator is willing to give up or, indeed, destroy for the sake of her obsession. She arranges for the Woman in the Purple Skirt to get a job at the hotel where she works cleaning rooms. They’ve never actually spoken, but our narrator imagines she’ll now get the chance to introduce herself. Instead, the Woman in the Purple Skirt quickly becomes popular with the cliquey other workers, and the Woman in the Yellow Cardigan remains as invisible as ever. Meanwhile, she keeps following the Woman in the Purple Skirt: listening in on her conversations, tracking her purchases, and waiting outside her apartment. Imamura’s pacing is as deft and quick as the best thrillers, but her prose is also understated and quietly subtle. Occasionally the dialogue can feel somewhat canned: “She’s quick about her work,” one of the other hotel workers says, and the response is, “Uh-huh. She sure is.” Still, this is a minor complaint of a novel that is, overall, a resounding success.
A subtly ominous story about voyeurism and the danger of losing yourself in someone else.