(And no, I'm not rereading it just because it's one of the books in Murakami's Kafka's library, because it might be Shiga's short stories there, and probably is.)
I remember almost nothing of the book, just that the protagonist spends an awful lot of time hanging out in teahouses with geisha, not enjoying himself much but apparently unable to think of anything better to do. That can't be the whole of a 400 page novel, I thought, but it's certainly the whole of the first hundred pages. When he's not getting drunk in the teahouses, falling asleep there, having a bath, getting drunk again, and essentially paying for the hire of two geisha for 24 hours or more (poor women), he's wandering off to eat in restaurants with various friends. The question of how he pays for this is only once addressed, and then he sells some of his books to cover one evening's visit. How he manages the rest of the time is anyone's guess. But back he goes, again and again, because he has to see this woman or that one so as to judge if she's attractive or not. He isn't going to start an affair with her because he avows that 'I know nothing about such things.' (One hopes he knows it'll cost him a great deal more than just hiring her to play cards, which is what he does a lot of). No, he's trying to find out how he *feels* about women. The book is hardly an advertisement for the discreet charm of the Taishou intellectual, because neither protag nor his friends have any at all. One can enjoy a self-absorbed bon vivant and man about town who's actually enjoying himself, but one who just moons around in vague and perpetual dissatisfaction is a bore. I don't say he's a Japanese Holden Caulfield- for one thing, he's much hornier- but he's just as much a dweeb.
Nonetheless I'm enjoying the book because of all the place names. Shiga's Sugamo is certainly not mine, though his Ginza might have been, and my tramping grounds in Shinjuku and Ikebukuro were, I think, pretty close to farmland in the 1920s; but the older shitamachi sections near the river seem pretty much the same. Yes, Taishou houses were all wood and not the stucco and plaster I saw almost thirty years ago, but the feel of these neighbourhoods- Ueno, Akasaka, Hongo- sounds the same.
And since the tablet recharged, I was able to finish The Affair of the Mysterious Letter this afternoon. How I wish for a paper copy so I could leaf back and trace those vaguely noted King in Yellow references, and possibly compare them with the original, supposing I still have my copy of that. Or maybe I should just leave it all as the fantastic mishmash it reads as, pointless of disentanglement, given that the action is of the 'runaway cart rattling downhill' school: you can't follow where it's going or where it's been, you can only hold on as it swerves hither and thither and gains speed, and trust to avoid a crash at the end.
But I do suspect it of having inspired one of my dreams last night, a baroque Buddhistic cartoon in the style of Avatar the Last Airbender, with much emphasis on the intricate designs on the characters' robes.