AT THE END OF THE MATINEE
By Keiichiro Hirano
Translated by Juliet Winters Carpenter
“At the End of the Matinee” is the second book by the prizewinning Japanese writer Keiichiro Hirano to be translated into English, following “A Man” in 2020. Like that previous book, it has garnered swooning reviews in Japan and elsewhere. Simply put, it’s a love story with a classic trajectory: Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy finds girl.
”At the End of the Matinee,” though, is distinguished by the toniness of its particular boy and girl. He’s Satoshi Makino, a sensitive, masterly musician who plays classical guitar. She’s Yoko Komine, a renowned reporter, based in Iraq. In the long, lofty conversation in which they meet, they talk about music, about films and memory and the past, about art, about composers they admire. She drops an appropriate quote from Glenn Gould, he from Beethoven. We are beckoned to be aware of their excellent taste — when Yoko looks at her watch, Hirano notes for us that it’s an Omega. Other signifiers of high — or at least expensive — culture abound: Goethe, Ligne Roset, Gerhard Richter, Bugatti, Herta Müller, Michel Houellebecq, Zaha Hadid, Meister Eckhart.
It is the obligation of the writer of this kind of story to separate his lovers so that they can find their way back to each other, and Hirano outdoes himself here with multiple impediments to happiness — beginning in that very first conversation, when Makino discovers that Yoko is engaged to someone else. Later, they arrange several meetings — in Paris, in Tokyo — which fall through in increasingly complicated and improbable ways, leaving one or both of them certain that the other has lost interest. After the final and most strained and unlikely of these failures, each of them seemingly settles for a more pedestrian life without the other. Yoko returns to her fiancé, marries him and has a child. Makino becomes romantically involved with Sanae, the woman who manages his professional life.