In this witty and exuberant collection of feminist retellings of traditional Japanese folktales, humans live side by side with spirits who provide a variety of useful services–from truth-telling to babysitting, from protecting castles to fighting crime.
A busybody aunt who disapproves of hair removal; a pair of door-to-door saleswomen hawking portable lanterns; a cheerful lover who visits every night to take a luxurious bath; a silent house-caller who babysits and cleans while a single mother is out working. Where the Wild Ladies Are is populated by these and many other spirited women–who also happen to be ghosts. This is a realm in which jealousy, stubbornness, and other excessive “feminine” passions are not to be feared or suppressed, but rather cultivated; and, chances are, a man named Mr. Tei will notice your talents and recruit you, dead or alive (preferably dead), to join his mysterious company.
In this witty and exuberant collection of linked stories, Aoko Matsuda takes the rich, millenia-old tradition of Japanese folktales–shapeshifting wives and foxes, magical trees and wells–and wholly reinvents them, presenting a world in which humans are consoled, guided, challenged, and transformed by the only sometimes visible forces that surround them.
One nice thing this decade was discovering the funny, surreal, slyly ingenuous, sometimes eerily incantatory fiction of Aoko Matsuda. In this short novella, Matsuda’s longest work to be translated so far, the narrator travels up five flights of stairs to see the titular girl who is getting married, while reflecting on their relationship--now intimate, now distant, now ontologically suspect. The girl who is getting married is referred to only as ’the girl who is getting married, ’ which lets Matsuda write sentences like: ’The girl who is getting married announced that she was now a girl who is getting married. The girl who is getting married is getting married!’ It’s a delightfully strange story strange right down to its syntax.
The storytelling is defined by psychological precision and sharp, aphoristic commentary (Of a dead goldfish, the narrator says: ’Even the smallest of deaths has an undeniable splendour when it happens in front of you’, and a shopping mall: ’It is so bright you could forget the human race has such a thing as shadows’). Matsuda spins the ordinary (the price of tights, for example, or hair removal) into the extraordinary.
"Matsuda’s groundbreaking collection turns traditional Japanese ghost and yōkai stories on their heads by championing wild, complex women . . . Matsuda’s subversive revisionist tales are consistently exciting."
"Preface any storytelling format with ’traditional, ’ and audiences will have no expectations of feminist agency. Thankfully, prizewinning Japanese writer Matsuda imagines reclamation and brilliantly transforms fairy tales and folk legends into empowering exposés, adventures, manifestos . . . Adroitly translated by UK-based Polly Barton . . . Matsuda enthralls with both insight and bite."
"A wondrously surreal yet realistically grounded take on traditional Japanese ghost tales, Matsuda deftly reworks classic stories by placing the female spirits front and center. Her pragmatic ghosts give beauty advice, take lovers and long baths, and even babysit for an overworked single mother . . . In Matsuda’s reimaginings, the ghosts take control with agency, wit and compassion--and a streak of pop culture flair."
"Taking a collection of traditional Japanese ghost stories and crafting them into often humorous yet painfully relevant tales is a move of pure genius by Aoko Matsuda. Taking place in a contemporary setting, with a decidedly feminist bend, Where the Wild Ladies Are takes classic Japanese ghost stories--which make up some of the best in the world--and rewrite them to make them relevant to the current gender climate of modern-day Japan. Witty, biting, and poignant, Matsuda’s collection is a pleasantly haunting surprise."
"Matsuda punctures the folktale serenity and brings us into the now through references to the cruelties of global capitalism and western cultural hegemony."
"Where the Wild Ladies Are immediately became one of my favorite story collections. The ghosts have got the numbers on us, as Matsuda knows, and it’s a joy to see the living and the dead by the light of her radiant imagination. At once playful, joyful, and radically subversive."