Today I’d like to share a few interesting quirks of Kokoro, by Natsume Sōseki.
First of all, there are 110 chapters in this novel, and they are all the same length. How on earth did Sōseki pull that off? I suppose the chapters are not precisely the same length; some are 2 pages long, some are slightly more than 2 pages, and some are slightly less than 2 pages. But none deviate more than a little bit. This must have been a stylistic choice by Sōseki. The format gives the novel a feel of consistency. There is a heft in this consistency, and a lightness that comes with knowing that the next chapter, like all the rest, will be only 2 pages long.
Secondly, this book employs the story-within-a-story device. This is a common device that authors use whereby an exterior story frames an interior story that one of the characters tells. In this case, the young man’s exterior story frames the interior story that the older man tells. Whenever I encounter this sort of thing in books, the thought always crosses my mind that it’s a bit uncanny that the two stories are told in the same style. Of course, it’s not actually uncanny at all: both stories were written by the same author, in this case Sōseki, and thus employ the same style. But within the narrative of the novel, one would hardly expect the narrations of the young and older men to match each other so precisely—each even using the format of 2-page chapters! It’s too much for me; my disbelief is not suspended. But I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a book that makes a serious effort to differentiate the styles of a story-within-a-story device. Maybe that would disrupt the flow of the narrative too much. Or maybe it’s just nearly impossible for a writer to write like anyone but him/herself.
Thirdly, I have to say, I don’t know enough about the history of Japan to fully make sense of this novel. It can certainly be read and enjoyed without historical knowledge, but such knowledge might have helped fit the characters and their actions within a broader context. The introduction of my copy states that this novel takes place during the middle (older man) and end (young man) of the Meiji period, 1868-1912. This period was explained a bit in Jared Diamond’s novel Upheaval (which I previewed on this blog in 2020). I remember that in this period, Japan became more familiar with the Western world and adopted some Western ideas and practices. But honestly, there is a lot more I have to learn about this topic.