Monday, 13 February 2017

A last sentence by Tanizaki | Virginia Woolf

A last sentence by Tanizaki | Virginia Woolf · Lisa Hjalt

I don't know about you but in bookshops I often find myself reading the first sentence of a book or its first paragraph; never the last sentence, as it could give away the ending, but I know people who do. In January I finished reading The Makioka Sisters by the Japanese writer Jun'ichirō Tanizaki (1886-1965), translated by Edward G. Seidensticker (an Everyman's Library edition). Without giving away its plot, I have to share with you the book's last sentence: 'Yukiko's diarrhea persisted through the twenty-sixth, and was a problem on the train to Tokyo' (p. 498).

Do you need to read it again? I did.

Usually when I finish reading a book I contemplate on the characters, plot, theme, etc., and perhaps write a few lines in my notebook. This time my mind was going, Okay, is there a chapter missing? Is this the ending? I honestly turned the book upside down - I believe I even shook it gently - in the attempt to find that missing final chapter. And when I realised that this was it, this was indeed the last sentence, I just burst out laughing. This is the single most memorable last sentence I have ever come across.

I'm still looking at that page and laughing; this last sentence is so unexpected.

The prose of The Makioka Sisters is very calm (during the reading I told friends it often felt like meditation). I don't remember a book with such a quiet prose. It's quite long, divided into three books, but I enjoyed it. Basically, it's about the search of the Makioka family for a husband for the third sister so they can marry off the fourth and youngest, who already has a suitor. The theme is like any Jane Austen novel but the style is completely different. It's an interesting social study of Japan, its culture and customs, in a certain era: It starts in 1936 and ends in April 1941; Europe is already at war but the attack on Pearl Harbor hasn't happened. When you finish reading the book you know that there are major changes ahead.

The Makioka Sisters was on my № 6 reading list and I told you then that I was noting down ideas for a Japanese list. On that one you will find The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu, a Japanese classic from the 11th century, often referred to as the world's first novel, translated by Tanizaki into modern Japanese. On the list you will also find Tanizaki's Some Prefer Nettles - I won't tell you more until I share it.

From a Virginia Woolf feature, 'Bloomsbury & Beyond', Harpar's Bazaar UK, March 2017, pp. 324-25

You may already have seen the Vanessa Bell feature I shared on Instagram last week, from the March 2017 issue of Harper's Bazaar UK. It's been months since I last bought a fashion magazine but almost ran to the shop when I learned that the cultural section of this one included both Bell and her sister Virginia Woolf. The Woolf feature is called 'Bloomsbury & Beyond' and opens with a photo of her desk at Monk's House, her home in Sussex (spotted in my top image), and ends with her short story The Lady in the Looking Glass, which appeared in the magazine's January 1930 issue. An inexpensive Penguin edition of The Lady in the Looking Glass also includes her stories A Society, The Mark on the Wall, Solid Objects, and Lappin and Lapinova. The last one appeared in the April 1939 issue, which you can spot in the top-left corner of my image above. If short stories are your thing I believe all the ones by Woolf are available online.

images by me | credit: Harper's Bazaar UK, March 2017 · Harry Cory Wright | map of France from the book Map Stories: The Art of Discovery by Francisca Mattéoli (Octopus Publishing Group) © Bibliothèque Nationale de France


  1. Oh, Lisa, I had to laugh, too, even though thanks to you I knew what was coming.😊 Just finished 'The Makioka Sisters' and was sorry when it did. So enjoyable! Have you tried anything else by him?

    1. How wonderful to read that you read the book and liked it. I'm still laughing over that sentence. I'm sorry if I ruined the surprise for you but I know I didn't give away any of the plot ;- ) Soon I will be sharing the Japanese reading list and in this blog entry I mentioned that on it would be his book 'Some Prefer Nettles', which I have already bought. I intend to read everything by him.

  2. I loved this book as well and I recommend Quicksand, also by Tanizaki.

    1. Thank you, Sharon, for your comment. Quicksand is on my TBR and will appear on a Japanese reading list later.


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