If you’re ever in the mood for satisfying, thought-provoking literary fiction but don’t fancy wading through something that could double as a doorstop, look no further: Strangers is brief and brilliant.
The English translation of this Japanese novel fills just 208 pages but this slim volume makes a huge impact.
Strangers delivers a Christmas Carol-esque lesson that stresses the importance of forging connections with others in an increasingly isolating world. And just like Dickens’ festive favourite, Strangers uses ghosts to get the message across.
At the centre of the novel is Harada, an emotionally detached man who perhaps prizes his independence too highly. One day, he encounters a couple who bear a striking resemblance to his deceased parents. He forges a bond with this couple, paying them regular visits. As the friendship develops, Harada’s health rapidly deteriorates. It is then that he realises that the couple are in fact ghosts who are draining his strength. Woven in with all of this is Harada’s relationship with Kei, who may not be all she seems.
Strangers functions incredibly well as a gripping, and genuinely chilling, ghost story. It also meditates rather beautifully on the bond between parents and children. Taichi Yamada contrasts the unconditional love between parents and children with the often thornier nature of romantic love. The novel considers the risks we take when we fall in love, the anxiety of revealing our imperfections to others, and the temptation to spare ourselves from potential rejection by retreating from the world.
Ultimately, Strangers warns against emotional withdrawal, urging us to remain open to forging connections with others. This is what makes us vulnerable, yes; it is also what makes us human. The novel invites us always to ask: ‘what could this stranger become?’ This message is at least as timely now as it was in 1987 when the novel was first published, perhaps even more so.