"Fireworks: Nine Profane Pieces" brings together a beguiling mix of first-person narratives from English novelist Angela Carter's two-year hiatus in Japan at the tail end of the 1960s, and they are as brilliant as they are bizarre.

Fireworks, by Angela Carter.
153 pages


It's a slim volume — the longest story is shy of 30 pages — and taken together the book is a strange mix of reality and magic realism. Carter, who died in 1992, opens with "A Souvenir of Japan," in which she recounts going to a fireworks festival an hour's ride from Shinjuku: "Above our heads, the fireworks hung dissolving earrings on the night." Carter is with her unnamed lover — "a connoisseur of boredom," whose presence and long absences, playing pachinko and going out on the town, torment her.

In these few stories about her time in Japan, Carter captures much of the loneliness and desolation of the neophyte. In "The Smile of Winter" she writes: "In this country you do not need to think, but only to look, and soon you think you understand everything."

The dismal reality of Tokyo, of shabby love hotels and love lost, is disrupted by fables such as "The Loves of Lady Purple," in which the star marionette devours the puppeteer who brought her to life.

In "The Executioner's Beautiful Daughter," Carter imagines a tribe of people somewhere up in the highlands who "have an exhaustible capacity for sin but are inexorably baulked by ignorance."

One thing that is common to all Carter's tales: prose that dazzles.

Read archived reviews of Japanese classics at jtimes.jp/essential.