Natskuo Imamura’s novel The Woman in the Purple Skirt (translated from the Japanese by Lucy North), is a short, disquieting novel of obsession and loneliness. While the story is ostensibly about the eponymous woman, who never otherwise has a name, it is narrated by another woman who calls herself “the woman in the yellow cardigan”.
When the novel opens, the narrator is already watching the woman in the purple skirt. She knows her routines, she knows where she sits in the park, she knows where she lives. But the narrator is not the only one who is fascinated by this woman, the children in the park play a game where going up and touching the woman in the purple skirt is the dare for the loser. When the narrator notices that the woman is out of work she contrives for her to notice a job ad working as a cleaner in the same hotel where the narrator works. And yet still, despite this everyday closeness, the narrator cannot find an opening to form the relationship she so desperately wants. Instead, the woman in the purple skirt becomes more popular and noticed and the narrator fades further into the background. The narrator subsumes her life into that of the woman she is obsessed with, seeing other interact with her socially but never finding herself able to form the healthy relationship she desires.
As with other fiction in translation, this novel probably has more resonance for Japanese readers. But for Western readers Imamura still managed to provide a disturbing view into the some of the issues facing Japan and Japanese society including loneliness, social isolation and alienation. So that while The Woman in the Purple Skirt a fascinating character study, it is by no means a comfortable one.