Mild Vertigo by novelist Mieko Kanai follows the protagonist, Natsumi, described as a homemaker from Tokyo with a husband and two young kids and her daily life of mundane, monotonous routines and conversations where nothing in particular really happens.

Each of the eight chapters revolves around an event in Natsumi’s life. The topic of each chapter often diverges as she reminisces, and the story transitions into a vivid flashback or sidenote before returning to the original topic at hand. Written in a fluid, immersive stream-of-conscious style, the story primarily progresses via Natsumi’s vivid inner thinking, as if the reader is embedded within her conscious, where even the smallest digressions that pass her mind upon the sight or sound of something reminding her of something else will be expressed.

With all the lengthy, descriptive, and almost poetic digressions and sidenotes, the progression of the story happens at a slow pace, which seems to complement one of the overarching topics of the book: Natsumi’s monotony of her daily life as a homemaker. Through Natsumi and her experiences, Mild Vertigo lightly touches on various topics revolving around women, especially the expectations of women placed upon her by society and those around her.

Due to the stream-of-consciousness writing style, reading Natsumi’s gripes with things such as her husband’s occasional questionable remarks or the burdens of being a mother feel all the more personal.

However, although the writing style contributes to the immersive, personal feeling of the story and helps it flow from one topic to the next, all its digressions and sidenotes in between, in a natural matter, simulating a person’s own inner thinking, also makes the novel difficult to wade through in places. With the contents and topics shifting back and forth, readers may be confused as the story’s direction. Occasionally, getting back on track to the main topic would also be confusing because the sidenote would be so lengthy and descriptive that I would forget what the original topic was even about.

It also adds to the issue that sentences are extremely long not just a few lines long, but rather, sentences are of 10 pages long (the first sentence of the book roughly spans four pages!) Moreover, the book does not utilize quotation marks with dialogues, so it could also be difficult to understand who’s saying what or even where one dialogue ends and another dialogue or description begins. The writing style takes some time to get used to and is probably the biggest obstacle when reading Mild Vertigo.

Another thing to note is that Mild Vertigo, originally written for a Japanese audience, occasionally references Japanese-specific things, such as celebrities, historical events, or even the significance of writing in the kanji and hiragana or katakana script. Fortunately, these references are mostly only mentioned in passing, and the given context clues (and a quick Google search) make it so these references should not prove to be too much of an issue for non-Japanese readers.

Overall, Mild Vertigo is recommended for someone who prefers a slow-paced story where most of the “action” is in the detailed description and dialogues. It is an insightful read as the reader is sure to sympathize with Natsumi and her daily struggles in shouldering the expectations placed upon her and her reminiscence of the past. Even if one is not a homemaker with two kids living in Tokyo, they are sure to resonate with Natsumi’s tired feelings of repetition and monotony of everyday life in a materialistic society, perhaps even finding themselves reminiscing along with Natsumi as she goes about her day.

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