Your new obssession -
The Woman in
the Purple Skirt
by Natsuko Imamura
Published to high praise from Paula Hawkins, Sayaka Murata and Oyinkan Braithwaite, The Woman in the Purple Skirt by Natsuko Imamura is a beguiling and unsettling tale of increasing obsession, and is now available in paperback. The woman in the yellow cardigan becomes infatuated with the woman in the purple skirt, who she first sees buying her daily pastry, and goes to great lengths to discover more about her. Subtler than a thriller, but equally as punchy, this elegant novel is sure to capture readers with it's delicate yet voyeuristic narrative, and here you can an exclusive extract from the beginning of the novel
There's a person living not too far from me known as the Woman in the Purple Skirt. She only ever wears a purple-colored skirt—which is why she has this name.
At first I thought the Woman in the Purple Skirt must be a young girl. This is probably because she is small and delicate looking, and because she has long hair that hangs down loosely over her shoulders. From a distance, you’d be forgiven for thinking she was about thirteen. But look carefully, from up close, and you see she’s not young—far from it. She has age spots on her cheeks, and that shoulder length black hair is not glossy—it’s quite dry and stiff. About once a week, the Woman in the Purple Skirt goes to a bakery in the local shopping district and buys herself a little custard-filled cream bun. I always pretend to be taking my time deciding which pastries to buy, but in reality I’m getting a good look at her. And as I watch, I think to myself: She reminds me of somebody. But who?
There’s even a bench, a special bench in the local park, that’s known as the Woman in the Purple Skirt’s Exclusively Reserved Seat. It’s one of three benches on the park’s south side—the farthest from the entrance.
On certain days, I’ve seen the Woman in the Purple Skirt purchase her cream bun from the bakery, walk through the shopping district, and head straight for the park. The time is just past three in the afternoon. The evergreen oaks that border the south side of the park provide shade for the Exclusively Reserved Seat. The Woman in the Purple Skirt sits down in the middle of the bench and proceeds to eat her cream bun, holding one hand cupped underneath it, in case any of the custard filling spills onto her lap. After gazing for a second or two at the top of the bun, which is decorated with sliced almonds, she pops that too into her mouth, and proceeds to chew her last mouthful particularly slowly and lingeringly.
As I watch her, I think to myself:
I know: the Woman in the Purple Skirt bears a resemblance to my sister! Of course, I’m aware that she is not actually my sister. Their faces are totally different.
But my sister was also one of those people who take their time with that last mouthful. Normally mild mannered, and happy to let me, the younger of the two of us, prevail in any of our sibling squabbles, my sister was a complete obsessive when it came to food. Her favorite was purin—the caramel custard cups available at every supermarket and convenience store. After eating it, she would often stare for ten, even twenty minutes at the caramel sauce, just dipping the little plastic spoon into it. I remember once, unable to bear it, swiping the cup out of her hands. “Give it to me, if you’re not going to eat it!” The fight that ensued—stuff pulled to the floor, furniture tipped over . . . I still have scars on my upper arms from her scratches, and I’m sure she still has the teeth marks I left on her thumb. It’s been twenty years since my parents divorced and the family broke apart. I wonder where my sister is now, and what she’s doing. Here I am thinking she still loves purin, but who knows, things change, and she too has probably changed.
If the Woman in the Purple Skirt bears a resemblance to my sister, then maybe that means she is like me . . . ? No? But it’s not as if we have nothing in common. For now, let’s just say she’s the Woman in the Purple Skirt, and I’m the Woman in the Yellow Cardigan.
Unfortunately, no one knows or cares about the Woman in the Yellow Cardigan. That’s the difference between her and the Woman in the Purple Skirt.
When the Woman in the Yellow Cardigan goes out walking in the shopping district, nobody pays the slightest bit of attention. But when the Woman in the Purple Skirt goes out, it’s impossible not to pay attention. Nobody could ignore her.
Say if she were to appear at the other end of the arcade. Everybody would immediately react—in one of four broad ways. Some people would pretend they hadn’t seen her, and carry on as before. Others would quickly move aside, to give her room to pass. Some would pump their fists, and look happy and hopeful. Others would do the opposite, and look fearful and downcast. (It’s one of the rules that two sightings in a single day means good luck, while three means bad luck.)
Natsuko Imamura was born in Hiroshima, Japan, in 1980. Her fiction has won various prestigious Japanese literary prizes, including the Noma Literary New Face Prize, the Mishima Yukio Prize, and the Akutagawa Prize. She lives in Osaka with her husband and daughter.
Lucy North is a British translator of Japanese fiction and non-fiction. Her translations include Toddler Hunting and Other Stories, as yet the sole book of fiction in English by Taeko Kono, and Record of a Night Too Brief, a collection of stories by Hiromi Kawakami. Her fiction translations have appeared in Granta, Words Without Borders, and The Southern Review and in several anthologies, including The Oxford Book of Japanese Short Stories and The Columbia Anthology of Modern Japanese Literature. She lives in Hastings, East Sussex.