Fantasies run amok in this slim Kawabata novel as the protagonist, Gimpei, revisits the women of his past by way of his remembrances and also while wandering the streets finding women to follow. That’s right, the story of a stalker. He has committed a crime which we do not know the details of, and so now Gimpei had taken to the streets, wandering in search of all types: from his young cousin he desired, to bathhouse girls, to a previous high school love. The Lake dips into all kinds of mystery (and memory), and as usual, Kawabata leaves much unexplained.
The novel opens in a bathhouse, while Gimpei is receiving a massage from a young girl. Everywhere around him he seems to notice the beauty and perfection of women at an unhealthy and obsessive level. The Lake has a very unique structure, for while he is receiving his massage he is reminded of a woman from his past, Miyako. The way Kawabata transitions the memory is very unique, in that, while receiving the massage, Gimpei senses a slapping sensation on his face, which pulls him back to a time when a woman named Miyako slapped him in the face with her handbag. He is then transported to that time when he finds the bag lying in the street, and thus he sifts through the contents, noticing that the purse contains a large sum of money. Readers are then no longer in the bathhouse but on the street, reliving this experience via way of Gimpei’s memory. Then, the scene switches and Gimpei is following another woman, and so on, though the story weaves back and forth between present and past.
Gimpei is a rather sad character (both in the depressed sense and he is also so pathetic that one cannot help but feel sorry for him), and he is pretty much an obsessive and lonely character who despises himself because, well, his feet are ugly. He views all the girls around him as “angels” or objects of perfection, and yet his own inadequacy is weighed against the ugliness of his own feet. Immediately, one is reminded of Kashiwagi, the son of the Zen priest in Yukio Mishima’s novel The Temple of the Golden Pavilion. In Mishima’s novel, Kashiwagi is club-footed and is unable to engage in sex with an attractive girl because the sight of his own repulsive clubfeet touching her repulses him. Although the two novels are very different in their approach, they share a similarity not only in regards to characters’ obsession but also the obsession with beauty and their ideas of it.