Mild Vertigo

Mieko Kanai

Translated by Polly Barton

French paperback with flaps, 176 pages
Published 21 June 2023

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Housewife Natsumi leads a small, unremarkable life in a modern Tokyo apartment with her husband and two sons: she does the laundry, goes on trips to the supermarket, visits friends and gossips with neighbours. Tracing her conversations and interactions with her family and friends as they blend seamlessly into her own infernally buzzing internal monologue, Mild Vertigo explores the dizzying reality of being unable to locate oneself in the endless stream of minutiae that forms a lonely life confined to a middle-class home, where both everything and nothing happens. With shades of Clarice Lispector, Elena Ferrante and Lucy Ellmann, this verbally acrobatic novel by the esteemed novelist, essayist and critic Mieko Kanai – whose work enjoys a cult status in Japan – is a disconcerting and radically imaginative portrait of selfhood in late-stage capitalist society.

‘I began to wonder whether I had always thought this way, whether this book was making me aware of the true nature of my mind for the first time. Such is the mesmerizing wonder of Kanai’s prose, as translated by Polly Barton.’
Claire Oshetsky, New York Times

‘In the vertigo lurking at the depths of a very ordinary life, Mieko Kanai succeeds in uncovering the tranquillity and cruelty that exist side by side.’ 
—Yoko Ogawa, author of The Memory Police

Mild Vertigo is an immersive, uncanny narrative held taut over eight chapters that contrasts existing and living, seeing and viewing. An enthralling horror story about tedium that pushes the reader tight up against the unmanageable moments of everyday life and the domestic.’
— David Hayden, author of Darker With the Lights On

‘A unique form of realism cultured from rhythmic, alert sentences that left my sense of the everyday altered, and made me desperate to read everything else Kanai has written.’
— Holly Pester, author of Comic Timing

‘A dizzying, kaleidoscopic novel. Bold yet simple, quiet yet choric, Mild Vertigo brilliantly captures the noisiness of a lonely life.’
— Aidan Cottrell-Boyce, author of The End of Nightwork

Mild Vertigo deftly captures the monotony of housework and the loss of self in family life, exploring a generalized sense of dissatisfaction with the options available to women in contemporary capitalism. Kanai’s beautiful and strange prose takes the reader inside the mind of a woman whose world is both mundane and disintegrating.’
— Alva Gotby, author of They Call It Love

‘Mieko Kanai is not interested in describing objects; she wants to accentuate their amorphous nature.’
— Sofia Samatar, The Paris Review

‘Laden with descriptions of objects and locations, Kanai’s detail-rich sentences offer a specificity of time and place. A subtle, thoughtful portrait of a woman chafing at the demands and constraints of domestic life.’
Kirkus, starred review

‘For me, Mieko Kanai’s writing represents one of the high points of Japanese literature. The tiny details give shape to the everyday, the daily repetitions, the memories that come suddenly flooding back, other people’s voices – all of these described in winding, iridescent prose. Their utter ordariness, their utter irreplaceability, make for a reading experience brimming with joy from start to finish.’
— Hiroko Oyamada, author of Weasels in the Attic

‘A sharp and sleek read that questions what is automated and what it means to be knowing, in a life compartmentalized into ribbons.’
— Tice Cin, author of Keeping the House

‘[Mieko Kanai is] not interested in describing objects; she wants to accentuate their amorphous nature…. Sections of the novel first appeared as monthly installments in a glossy magazine about bourgeois homemaking; also included are two reviews of photography exhibitions. Kanai says that these previously published articles and reviews, which appeared in different journals, were written in order to be collected as a novel. Written in order to be collected. The exhibition reviews, the advice flipped through in a women’s magazine: always a novel.’
— Sofia Samatar, author of Tender

‘Polly Barton’s deft translation of Mild Vertigo … plunges us into the mental life of Natsumi…. One of the novel’s great comic performances is Natsumi’s intense visualization of the contents of a supermarket she will visit later that day, comprising various lists extended to maddening lengths. But the near-identical repetition of this recital at the close of the novel, replete with the same details and wry observations, is much darker in tone. What was first presented as farce returns as tragedy – of a profoundly impoverished emotional life.’ 
Doug Battersby, Times Literary Supplement 

‘Mieko Kanai’s writing – encompassing fiction, poetry and criticism – has been sorely overlooked in the English-speaking world, so the new translation of her 1997 novel Mild Vertigo is a welcome arrival. The book is a surrealistic portrayal of quotidian middle-class life in late-20th century Japan.’
Marko Gluhaich, Frieze

‘From the first sentence of Mieko Kanai’s Mild Vertigo you’re already in a whirling state of imbalance, thanks to Kanai’s distinctive style and Polly Barton’s mesmerizing translation. The first sentence stretches out across pages – four to be exact – and you’re pulled into the mind of Natsumi, a Tokyo housewife and mother who never feels inclined to name her two young children. It’s a spiraling read of the everyday in all its idiosyncratic, tragicomic edges…. Humorous and thought-provoking, literary yet somehow escapist, Mild Vertigo is worth the challenge.’
Kris Kosaka, Japan Times

‘Kanai’s prose has a hypnotic rhythm that takes hold from the start and grips you. You’re there inside her head; she’s inside yours. The final pages build like a sound wall, a cacophony, punctuation rejected, gaining momentum, recalling the final pages of Ulysses – though here the mood, rather than affirmative, is future uncertain.’
Lee Langley, Spectator Australia

‘This is not a narrative of passive surrender, but a chronicling of a routine lived beat-by-beat among life’s daily provocations.… Between narrator and reader there is a conspiratorial candour and deadpan humour, which is captured deftly in Polly Barton’s translation.’
Rónán Hession, Irish Times

‘Kanai’s gift is attention: attention to familial memory, to overheard conversation, to those small glints (sometimes a dagger, sometimes a gift) that can appear in conversations among friends.’
— Australian Broadcasting Corporation 

‘[It’s] the observations of subtle minutiae that make Mild Vertigo an effortlessly intriguing read. Between a stream-of-consciousness-inspired prose, image patterns, and consistent pivots of thought, Kanai establishes the most surprising thing about this novel: its ability to make the vertiginous hypnotic.’
Gracie Jordan, The Rumpus 

Born in 1947, Mieko Kanai has worked throughout her life as a writer, poet, essayist and literary and art critic. She has published around thirty novels and short story collections, and her critical essays have been featured in Japanese newspapers and magazines for almost fifty years.

Polly Barton is a writer and Japanese translator. Her translations include Where the Wild Ladies Are by Aoko Matsuda, So We Look to the Sky by Misumi Kubo and There’s No Such Thing as an Easy Job by Kikuko Tsumura. She is the author of Fifty Sounds and Porn: An Oral History, both published by Fitzcarraldo Editions.