Katherine Brabon’s “The Shut Ins,” which was released by Australian publisher Allen & Unwin in July, chiefly takes place in Japan in 2014. However, the subject matter is particularly poignant now as we enter the third year of the pandemic, throughout which many of us have experienced social isolation and an unprecedented lack of control over our lives.

The Shut Ins, by Katherine Brabon256 pagesALLEN & UNWIN

The book is split into four sections, each centering on one protagonist: Hikaru, a young man living as a recluse in his parents’ home; his mother Hiromi; his childhood friend Mai, who re-enters Hikaru’s life soon after her marriage; and Sadako, a bar hostess who is drawn into a relationship with Mai’s husband after he turns to her for solace. While the female characters maintain a semblance of normality on the surface, all three feel trapped by societal pressure and, like Hikaru, spend a lot of time pondering their existence. In the last of the four sections, which focuses on Hikaru, Brabon offers a firsthand account of living as a hikikomori, people who experience acute social withdrawal and isolate themselves for months or years on end.