In Banana Yoshimoto’s “The Premonition,” a character describes her childhood as a fairy tale. Another, while wandering at night with her brother, likens the two of them to Hansel and Gretel. Indeed, a childlike simplicity pervades the book, and it is sweet — until it becomes saccharine.
The novel was originally published in 1988 by writer Mahoko Yoshimoto, under her now well-known pseudonym. This month, it was released in English with translation by Asa Yoneda. The story’s protagonist is Yayoi, a 19-year-old girl with a happy nuclear family. Yet she’s haunted by visions she can’t explain, which lead her to unravel big family secrets. She goes to her aunt, Yukino, an eccentric young piano teacher, to seek out answers. When Yukino goes missing, Yayoi's younger brother, Tetsuo, aids the search as the facts of their past come to light.
The characters move about in a dream-like state, but they never seem to transcend the fairy tale they live in. The novel takes a few steps toward more complex questions and ideas, but each trail goes cold as the story ultimately opts for sentimentality.