Autofiction is a literary term, coined in 1977 by Serge Doubrovsky, he used it in reference to his novel Fils, it refers to a work combining fiction & autobiography. By using these contradictory styles, a writer may tell their story in the third person, change significant details or characters, with the aim of searching for, or revealing, their inner workings, their self. It has parallels with a genre devised by Truman Capote called faction, and used in his novel Cold Blood.
It is also the name of a novel by Japanese author Hitomi Kanehara.
Hitomi Kanehara was born, and currently lives in, Tokyo. She wrote her first novel Snakes and Earrings when she was 21(2003). It won the Subaru Prize, before later the same year winning the Akutagawa Prize, one of the most prestigious literary awards in Japan, making her one of the youngest people ever to receive this honour, it was also highly praised by Ryu Murakami who said that “the novel was an accurate depiction of a new generation” going on to sell a million copies. Autofiction is her second novel to be translated into English
““Look! Look! it’s amazing.”
“You’re right. It really is.”
“Come on, though. Take a good look for yourself! See how amazing it is.”
I take my pale fiancé's hand in mine and continue to stare out the window as the plane makes its steady ascent. I pray to the orange lights below me. Pray that next year he’ll take me another trip to celebrate our first wedding anniversary.
I don’t want to go back to Japan. That’s how wonderful our honeymoon in Tahiti had been. Anything and everything is just so much fun when the two of us are together.”
Rin is flying back from her honeymoon. She’s absolutely head over heals in love with Shin, her husband, and the future appears bright and wonderful, until the flight stewardess comes along offering drinks, innocently igniting Rin’s jealousy . Later on, thinking Rin’s asleep, Shin goes to the toilet, which she thinks is a cover to seduce the flight attendant, and she starts to imagine all sorts of scenarios that they could be up to, her thoughts spiralling further & further out of control, her jealousy burning out any reasoning process she once had, going so far as to imagine that the stewardess must have drugged her, so she slept. This, according to her now jaundiced view, leaves her no option but death, so she prays for the plane to crash.
This state of mind lasts no more than the time it takes Shin to use the toilet, by the time he’s sat down any thoughts of death & suicide are replaced by her adoring, madly in love self, with neither Shin or anyone else aware of the turmoil she just went through.
In this book we meet Rin, aged 22, a successful writer married to a literary editor and a paranoid, jealous, angry woman capable of imagining this husband committing infidelities on the way home from their honeymoon. The book then spirals backwards through her 18th, 16th and finally 15th years. On the way we see Rin, the Barbie doll bar-hopper, exchanging sex for her other needs, Rin the school girl, hating it and dropping out till we reach the 15 year old Rin strung out on pills, pregnant, facing the prospect of an abortion.
Although this book is called Autofiction, and as such would appear to be some version of the author’s (Hitomi Kanehara ) life - you’re never sure how much or even if any – for example, on page 49 there a scene where the author/Rin meets her publisher (Shinagawa) and they discuss writing a work of autofiction.
“Shinagawa “ I’d like you to write a work of autofiction”.
Rin “ autofiction?” I say, and the words begin to feel real. “Autofiction”, I whisper to myself again and the word feels more real. But no matter how it feels when I say it, I still have no idea what it means. It is best to be honest in situations like this, so I ask him
“What do you mean by autofiction?”
Shinagawa “ Well in short, it’s autobiography-style fiction. A work of fiction that gets the reader suspecting that it’s actually an autobiography. After reading your short story set in the plane, I thought you might be interested”.”
The short story set in the plane????, i.e the first few pages that you read about Rin’s jealous rage, is actually a short story written by the writer who is being asked to write a work of autofiction.
Rin claims not to understand Shinagawa, and asks him if he meant writing about her childhood in a sanatorium, or that she was born in this village 22 years ago, neither of which is true & both know it. So where does the blurring start ?, is any of this real?, and does any of this matter to the story?
The honest answer is no. At the top of this post is one of the versions of Scream ( Norwegian: Skrik ) created by Edvard Munch and I chose this because the book appears to be written as though it were, one long scream, whether this is for help, anger or frustration. Or is it, as Ryu Murakami states, an accurate description of a modern generation. If this is a work of autofiction, Kanehara’s life was a dangerous turbulent existence full of seedy haunts, rape clubs and pathetic boyfriends who contributed no positive input into her life, that one is amazed she survived. If this is purely a work of fiction, it’s presented in a way that is so visceral, disturbing, powerful, yet immaculately written.
This book kept me guessing, but more importantly kept me turning the pages.
There is one proviso, before wholeheartedly recommending this book to anyone, and that is, if you are offended by foul language, descriptions of sex or genitalia, leave this alone. If you can take this in the spirit of the book, then this is an extraordinary spellbinding journey into a truly disturbed soul.
H.K, Vintage Originals