Thoughts: Twinkle Twinkle


Twinkle Twinkle by Kaori Ekuni is a short novel (just 170 pages), which follows the story of Shoko and Mutsuki. When we meet them, they are only a short time into their marriage of convenience. Shoko suffers from depression and is an alcoholic, Mitsuki is gay and has been in a relationship with his boyfriend Kon for a long time. Their respective in-laws only know about the “defect” of their own child and are ecstatic that they got their children married.

The novel is told alternately from Shoko’s and Mutsuki’s perspective, a style which worked very well for me, blending and crashing both their perspectives and voices to tell their story. It’s a quirky and somewhat strange book, but the topics at the heart of it are important and dark.

First of all, there is the matter of their “defects”; Shoko’s mental illness and alcoholism are very serious problems, Mustsuki’s sexuality should not be one at all. Because of that they are both not considered ideal marriage partners, but their parents’ are desperate to see them married. Bowing to the constant pressure of their parents and Japanese society is how they end up married to each other.

I think this novel was originally written in the 90s and I have no idea whether things have now changed, but I had no idea the pressure to get married and have children in Japan was this great. There seems to be no place outside traditional gender roles and both characters are constantly told that everything will be alright once they are married and then once they have children. Shoko is completely ignored when she attempts to get help, because apparently marriage will magically fix it all.

They do seem to find a bit of comfort and understanding in each other. But with Mutsuki continuing, and Shoko insisting he continue, his relationship with Kon, they end up in a somewhat unconventional love-triangle. Although there is a suggestion that they find a solution that works for them all in the end, I have to say I am a bit unconvinced. It’s no small thing to be living with an alcoholic depressive, who has violent mood swings, and to be bound to someone who loves another person. Supposedly, the problems and moments of tension will be resolved with their solution, but throughout the story and over the couple of months of their marriage I could not really see how Shoko was more stable or drank less. And Mutsuki was mostly incredibly patient and understanding all the time.

This was the biggest problem for me, the characters. The secondary characters were very flat, especially the parents, who kept repeating the traditional, conservative tirade and not much else, they might as well have been walking posters. And Mutsuki, I simply don’t think that anyone can have his patience and tolerance all the time, and so I could seldom believe in him as a person. Shoko is the one character who stood out to me. In the beginning, I was afraid she would be another caricature of the mad woman, but slowly she became more three-dimensional: Trying to get professional help, enjoying being on her own, saying mean things and regretting them.

I did enjoy reading Twinkle Twinkle for its quirkiness, the sarcastic bright cover, its representation of mental illness, and the way it calls attention to gender roles in Japanese society. I read this novel as part of Tony’s January in Japan challenge. It seems that another Ekuni novel, God’s Boat, has been translated into English recently. I know I’ll want to give it a try.


Have you reviewed this book? Let me know and I’ll add a link!


18 thoughts on “Thoughts: Twinkle Twinkle

  1. Japanese society is certainly a lot stricter in its demands than in the west, and this kind of story doesn’t surprise me 🙂 Although we would not be able to see the two ‘defects’ in the same light, in a more traditional, collectivistic society, the relative importance of these ‘defects’ may be the opposite of our views…

    1. I really want to know more about changing, or not as the case may be, gender roles in Japan. Obviously haven’t read enough Japanese lit 🙂
      I do think though that even though our society appears to be more modern, pressure to marry and have children is just less explicit thn in Japan.

  2. Nice review, Bina! I think the book might have created a storm when it came out. It is interesting how the characters come up with a solution to handle their problem resulting in a triangle. Glad to know that you liked the book enough to want to try another book of Ekuni. Thanks for this wonderful review! Nice to see you reviewing again 🙂

    1. Thank you, Vishy! I’m just happy I finally managed to post a review again 🙂 Their story is indeed quite an interesting one, and even if I don’t like everything about the book, I’d definitely recommend it. Hope you’ll get to read Ekuni and enjoy her works.

  3. Hey Bina, this is such an interesting and good review of a book.:-) The novel is going straight on my TBR list.

  4. I’ve recently read ‘God’s Boat’ and really enjoyed it, some really great characterization, it sounds like the structure is similar to ‘Twinkle,Twinkle’, switching between narrator to narrator, I hope you track out a copy!.

    I’ve still yet to read ‘Twinkle,Twinkle’ which I’m looking forward to, thanks for posting on it.

  5. I saw your review and was busy at work or something else and forgot to come back to it. Thanks for introducing Ekuni. I don’t think the society have changed that much. I find reading Japanese Literature challenges my mind a little because of its weirdness and things that doesn’t fit into my perhaps conventional thinking. I suppose that’s why JLit is unique and so out-of-the-world.

    Great to see you here again, are you coming back here more often? 😉

    1. Heh I only have decent internet at the library at the moment and my workload is insane at the moment, but I’m trying 😀
      I do love that about Japanese lit as well, although reading it often makes me aware that I don’t know that much about Japanese society.
      I’m reading the Ogawa book at the moment, love it!

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