This is Risa Wataya’s second and best known novel who won her the Akutagawa Prize at the age of 19.
My previous experience with Risa Wataya’s books has not been exciting. I read 『勝手にふるえてろ』in translation but remember not being impressed by it. More recently, I read 『私をくいとめて』 in Japanese and, similarly, did not find it very interesting.
Consequently, and even though it won the Akutagawa Prize, I was not expecting to love 『蹴りたい背中』. It was thus a pleasant surprise to discover that it has much more vivacity than the other two books I read, and I enjoyed it enough.
What I loved the most in the book is how the two protagonists are true loners who don’t fit in their environment. What they do is weird for the society, but not in the cool way of being eccentric and breaking social conventions, more in a pathetic and helpless sort of way that makes them authentic.
I feel like I have read tons of stories where the protagonists are supposedly marginalised persons who do not have friends and do not fit in society. But of course, they still manage to make friends in the course of the story, and you realise that they are actually very easy people to be with. So why were they loners in the first place? It looks like the author wants to give their characters the romantic aura that goes with solitude without wanting to make them unattractive characters.
On the contrary, I loved the complexity of Hatsu’s personality and how Risa Wataya stays faithful to her characters all along. They don’t suddenly become agreeable, plain and mainstream characters just because they met the right person. In 『蹴りたい背中』, the main protagonists certainly haven’t met the right person in each other and this encounter does not suddenly change their personality. They just have to deal with each other while still being themselves, and this hard-to-define relationship is what made the story truly interesting to me.
The structure of the book and how the story evolves share some similarities with 『私をくいとめて』, but it has much more energy, depth and audacity. In comparison, 『私をくいとめて』 looks like a pale, grown-up copy of 『蹴りたい背中』.
So overall, I enjoyed 『蹴りたい背中』 much more than I thought I would. Reading this book did not make me want to throw myself in another Risa Wataya’s book though, so I guess that my general feeling concerning this author has not changed much: I can see why people love her books, but it is not for me.