Basically, Bananas

I try not to think of myself as an impulse buyer, and on the larger scale this is true. I can’t afford to go out and buy a red Ferrari, Jimmy Choo shoes or whatever, and have trained myself not to even want these things. It hasn’t been that difficult, really: I’ve never been attracted to bling.

Something I have discovered, however, is that however low you set your budget the impulse to impulse-buy remains – it’s just reduced in scale. So now, on my rare ventures into civilisation, I might discover that I have bought a pencil – one of those silver, German ones with the interesting looking bobbles down the sides, presumably for superior grip. Not that gripping a pencil has been a problem in the past but – who knows what you might write with a special, silver German pencil. Or I might discover that I have bought a green and vaguely rubbery-textured make-up bag (so much tidier, all two lipsticks in the one place) or a copy of the New Scientist just in case it should spark an idea for a science-fiction story: fairly useful items, but not strictly necessary.

But what about the things I end up having to throw away – like the revolting black plastic rain hat that didn’t even fit on my head (only £1 in the £1 Shop) or the transparent plastic pot of what was supposed to be a fruity breakfast snack I bought in Tescos: chewy, inedible mixture of blueberries and wheaty-something-or-other. Why did I even think I needed it on top of the triple-cheese-sandwich pack?

But the biggest weakness of all is second hand books. I cannot afford second hand books anymore. Furthermore, I have nineteen huge cardboard boxes of second hand books stacked against the wall in my bedroom, all of which will have to be ‘removed’ by sweating and probably complaining removal men very shortly. There were about 2,000 of them at my last rough calculation, but I’ve bought more since.

It’s Amazon’s fault, mostly. I go on there to resupply the cats with wood-based cat-litter and end up buying a hefty treatise on philosophy. My last extravagance: four paperbacks by a Japanese lady writer I had never heard of before until I happened to skim past her name on Twitter, skid to a stop and skim back again. Someone had written that they only started reading Banana Yoshimoto because of the simple, elegant design of her paperback covers. And there, irresistibly, was a photo of a whole row of plain, brightly-coloured paperbacks – like sweeties in a sweetshop to a bookaholic – by this Banana Yoshimoto lady. One, irresistibly enough, was even banana yellow.

Apparently I just had to have them since a few days later they started thudding onto my doormat, rammed through the letterbox by a lazy postman. So which ones did I buy? Just checking, since I’m only halfway through the banana yellow one:

N.P. (banana)




So I bought four second-hand paperback novels by a novelist I had never heard of until two seconds before I bought them, and might not even like. Luckily I am liking N.P. It’s kind of short and kind of mysterious, kind of modern and kind of ancient. It has that creepy feel of impermanence, evanescence, falling cherry blossom and fleeting lives that Japanese Haiku also convey.

The initials stand for North Point, which is described in the novel as ‘a very sad old song’. The song is said to have inspired a collection of stories entitled – you guessed it – N.P. by a famous Japanese author living in Boston and writing in English, who committed suicide after writing them. Thereafter, everyone who tries to translate the book back from English into Japanese also commits suicide. It’s very strange, like the manuscript is cursed.

Of course I had to try to find this very sad old song, but so far the only North Point song I have found is one by Mike Oldfield – which is certainly gloomy but not all that old, and would have been even less old when Banana was writing the book in 1980. I was thinking more along the lines of one of those American ballads of explorers who drowned in the ice looking for the North-West passage or whatever, but nothing pops up on Google. I suspect Banana invented North Point, the song, just to wind me up.

Tomorrow I am going into town again and once again will try to resist the urge to buy the New Scientist or an inedible pot of fruity gruel just for the pleasure of buying something. What is it about shopping that makes one feel so much better? The feminine ‘gathering’ instinct, perhaps – once upon a time it was nuts and berries, now it’s plastic rain-hats and oriental paperbacks.

And on the way I shall ponder my new pen-name, for all those best-selling, elegantly-designed little novels I might possibly find time to write one day. I was thinking Celery Clark. Or maybe, just that little bit more exotic, Kiwi-Fruit Klark?


Banana Yoshimoto

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