Sunday, January 15, 2006

Hikikomori, or man-boys in small rooms

or, yet another social trend aptly profiled in the New York Times Magazine: Japanese boys are shutting themselves in their bedrooms and refusing to come out. For years. I just read a much funnier (than the article) novel by Jean-Philippe Toussaint, La Salle de Bain (The Bathroom in English), about a young French man who sits all day in his bathroom, fully clothed. I'm not sure whether the humor will come across in a spur-of-the-moment translation, but here goes:

Mom brought me pastries. Sitting on the bidet, the wide-open box balanced between her legs, she arranged them in a soup plate. ... She raised her head, slowly and sadly, wanted to say something, but didn't, choosing an eclair and biting into it. You should keep yourself busy, she told me, play sports, I don't know. She wiped the corners of her mouth with her glove. I answered that the need for keeping oneself busy seemed suspicious to me. When, almost smiling, I added that I feared nothing except keeping busy, she clearly saw that I was not to be argued with, and, mechanically, handed me a puff pastry.
Not as good in English because of the repetition of "pastry" at the beginning and end of the paragraph. That first iteration is "gateaux" in French, which is literally "cakes," but really refers to pastries; the second is "mille-feuilles," literally "thousand leaves," or a pastry with many thin layers of puff pastry and cream (see how inadequate our pastry vocabulary is??).
Also: the original does not nearly have the vulgar implications of "box balanced between her legs," in case you're leering at your screen right now.

1 comment:

Jenny D said...

I think you can say mille-feuilles in English (Richard Fortey uses the term to describe a particular kind of geological formation in his recent book EARTH: AN INTIMATE HISTORY). At any rate surely there's something more apt than puff pastry; I know a napoleon is really a bit different, but it would give the idea. Interesting passage, though!