Review: ‘Weasels in the Attic’ by Hiroko Oyamada

Weasels in the Attic

Weasels in the Attic, translated from the Japanese by David Boyd, is a novella comprised of three interconnected scenes. In each one, two old friends come together over food, accompanied either by acquaintances or their respective wives. Over the course of each meal, matters of age, infertility, fish breeding, weasel infestations, and marriage float to the surface of every conversation.

Oyamada’s spare prose smoothes out each segment, unfolding its edges to reveal wrested observations. The motion is accompanied by the wafting aromas of various Japanese delicacies. These merge with countless mysteries, both culinary and moral, as a staticky air transforms the mundane into the metaphysical. 

As is often the case with Japanese literature, Weasels in the Attic thrives in the realm of the subdued and the meditative. The isolation of personal experience overpowers communal ideation, honing in on emotional detachment, “I didn’t know how to respond when Saiki called to tell me that Shuzo Uraba had died. (…) For Saiki to get married and move into a new home like that was a big change. I figured I ought to give him a call.”

The protagonist’s infertility problems are a constant source of pressure, dissatisfaction, and narrative tension. It’s no surprise, then, that talk of animals slips in, diverts, and consumes. But it’s not until a tale of muted violence is voiced, followed quickly by the warping of human behavior, that a coating of sinister presentiment settles over the page,

“she twisted her body awkwardly to hand the baby to me, her mouth weirdly contorted.”

All this is preceded by a fairly humorous, delicate tone, as well as the kind of pacifying attention to detail that lends the story its ceremonious air, “My wife’s wool coat was swaying on the hanger so she grabbed it by the shoulders for a moment, then slowly let go.”

It becomes apparent early on that the author’s rigorous focus on the motions of life constitutes the substance of the narrative, offering it a weightless — perhaps somewhat inconsequential — feel. But herein lies its brilliance; the territorial clash between humans and weasels takes on a much more sensationalistic air.

This also allows an ominous quality to underlie the lull of the snowy setting. And whenever human cruelty emerges from the recesses of everyday life, it does so mutely, managing to alarm the characters themselves. 

Consequently, what makes Weasels in the Attic quite thrilling is its distinct ambiguity. Women’s appeal is whetted down to their age and cooking mastery, men’s stature is seemingly defined by their margin of success, money, and emotional coolness. Even a nightmare, straightforward in essence, is laced with traces of absurdity, “I didn’t want the fish dying on top of me.”

Likewise, the ending proves unrestrained enough to warrant a throng of interpretive deconstructions. As a result, the novella’s appeal might seem as elusive as its contents. To have traveled the pathways of Oyamada’s mind and come out enlightened seems an enviable feat.


Publication date: November 3, 2022 (Granta Publications)

Worth the Price?

AbsolutelyNot reallyIt depends

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s