KUSAMAKURA by Natsume Soseki, translated by Meredith McKinney. Penguin Classics, 2008, 152 pp., £9.99 (paper)

In this early work (also known as "Grass Pillow") by one of Japan's best-known authors, the narrator is with a mysterious woman he meets at the hot spring. They are talking about reading, about skipping pages. He says there is nothing wrong with it if you "want to know about the story." To which she answers "What do you read if it isn't the story? Is there anything else to read?" And this in a work notorious for having no "story" at all.

Nothing happens, nothing comes of the encounter. That is, if you expect "story." However, what happens is always less interesting than how it happens, or doesn't happen, and in reading "Kusamakura" the interest is always firmly in the how.

For two characters in a story to be questioning the role of story in a work that has none makes us suspect humor. And indeed Soseki is one of the few humorists of Japanese literature. He lets us know this from the very beginning of his plotless saga.