Kaori Ekuni’s novel Twinkle Twinkle was the first of her works to be translated into English. Ekuni is both a bestseller and a literary award winner in Japan. Initially she wrote poetry and children’s stories before beginning to write for a more general audience. Twinkle Twinkle, originally published in Japan in 1991, was her debut novel and earned Ekuni the Murasaki Shikibu Literary Prize in 1992. Also in 1992, Twinkle Twinkle was adapted into a film directed by Joji Matsuoka. The novel was translated into English by Emi Shimokawa and published by Vertical in 2003. (Twinkle Twinkle was actually the first book ever to be released by Vertical.) Despite being a well-known and admired author in Japan, before reading Twinkle Twinkle I was unfamiliar with Ekuni and her work. After reading Twinkle Twinkle I sincerely hope that more of her writing is translated. Currently the only other novel by Ekuni available in English is God’s Boat.
Shoko and Mutsuki married four months after they first met, much to the delight of their respective parents who feared that their progeny would never find someone to spend the rest of their lives (and hopefully have children) with. Although Shoko and Mutsuki are pleased with their arrangement, each is hiding a secret from their new in-laws. Shoko is an alcoholic and emotionally unstable while Mutsuki is gay and continues to see his long-term boyfriend Kon. Shoko and Mutsuki care for each other, but their marriage is one of convenience more than anything else. They are each free to live their lives how they choose while at the same time are able to keep up appearances for their families. It seems like a perfect marriage as long as they can prevent their parents from discovering the farce. But during their first year together things begin to unravel. Neither Shoko or Mutsuki quite realize what all of the consequences of their marriage might actually be.
Each chapter of Twinkle Twinkle alternates between Shoko and Mutsuki’s individual perspectives. It’s a great technique that lets readers see both sides of their relationship and how they view each other. It also allows a glimpse into the newlyweds’ internal states of being. Throughout the novel it is clear that both Shoko and Mutsuki deeply care about the other. They’re not exactly romantically involved and they may not be having sex together, but they both want the other to be happy and work to make that happen. It’s not always easy, though. Both of them have habits that either baffle or annoy the other and they’re not always sure what to do about it. As Twinkle Twinkle and the first year of their marriage progresses Shoko becomes increasingly unstable—anxious that she isn’t able to adequately fulfill her role. As for Mutsuki, as wonderful as he can be, he’s unable to ease Shoko’s fears; his kindness often makes matters worse.
Twinkle Twinkle is a very peculiar love story between two incredibly imperfect people. But it’s Shoko and Mutsuki’s faults and flaws that make the novel as effective as it is. No marriage is perfect and even a fake one takes a tremendous amount of effort to maintain. To make matters even more complicated there’s Kon, who at times is on better terms with Shoko than he is with Mutsuki. Kon is extremely important to both of them as well as to the story itself. Together Kon, Shoko, and Mutsuki form an intense triangle with relationship dynamics crucial to their development as people and to the development of the novel. Twinkle Twinkle is fairly light in its tone and is immensely readable, but Ekuni still manages to pack several hard-hitting punches into the narrative. Personally, I loved Twinkle Twinkle. It’s one of the best novels that I’ve read recently and I can easily see myself reading it again.