Autofiction is the second novel to be available in English by one of the bright young stars of Japanese literature, Hitomi Kanehara. The themes of despair, paranoia, disengagement, nihilism and so on are familiar to those who have already read Snakes and Earrings.
There is a lot packed into this short novel. It is a story, told backwards, concerning a psychologically damaged young writer who, whilst returning from her honeymoon, becomes convinced that her husband is having an affair with one of the air hostesses. This paranoia and obsessive behaviour is then traced back through various stages of her life to reveal an abusive and disturbing past. We see, therefore, that her behaviour is part of a pattern that is self-destructive and unresolved. We are left wondering what the next (first) chapter in the story would be.
At an early point in the novel, the writer is persuaded by her agent to begin work on a piece of ‘autofiction’, a piece of fictional writing that suggests an autobiographical frame. It is thus suggested to us that this novel itself is a piece of autofiction by Kanehara and that the main character is a fictionalised version of herself. And yet by definition, it is a piece of fiction and, therefore, cannot be Kanehara. In this sense, this is a playful piece of writing, highly charged and deeply disturbing.