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Sayonara Bar
Susan Barker
Black Swan paperback £6.99

review by J.C. Hartley

A first novel by a graduate who taught English in Japan for two years, Sayonara Bar sneaks into a genre listing by dint of its setting and certain aspects of the plot. It is set in Japan, that nest egg the future has invested in the present, specifically my favourite city, courtesy of its name -
City of glass cliffs
Curtain walling reflecting
Floating roof gardens

Mary is an English girl working as a hostess in the Sayonara Bar, where she encourages bored salarymen to buy drinks, dances with them, and whiles away their time until they move on to somewhere they can get laid. She is in love with Yuji the yakuza son of Mama-san her employer. Watanabe is the short order cook in the Sayonara Bar, in love with Mary he longs for her to join him in his transcendent elevation through hyperspace to the fourth dimension. Mr Sato is a salaryman in denial about the recent death of his wife and the fact that she seems to be haunting him; his scurrilous boss lures him to the bar.

The book progresses through chapters dedicated from the POV of each of the three main protagonists; there is some overlap of the story that increases as the novel approaches a conclusion. The novel is inscrutable and the vision of Japan it offers is just what a science fiction or comic book reader might expect. Just enough evidence is offered to suggest that Watanabe, with his dream of hyper-reality, is the victim of self-delusion, but equally he is aware at some level of events taking place that he is not party to. Mr Sato's ordered life follows such a straight line of internal logic that its eventual erratic path leaves the reader disoriented, although there are strong clues as to the dark secrets in his life. Mary, we fear, is kidding herself about Yuji all along but that doesn't prevent us hoping that the pair will escape the yakuza cohorts of his employer the odious Yamagawa-san.

Regarding the style and construction, at times if it wasn't for the named chapter headings we might be at a loss to identify which narrator was taking up the story, so similar can the authorial voices be; and on at least one occasion the lapse into a British proletarian vernacular for a minor character cameo rather than making the scene immediate and identifiable only succeeds in jarring.

Sayonara Bar is quite ambitious but being not quite genre, despite the haunting and the episodes in the fourth dimension, it might not appeal to a genre audience and equally for those very elements it might deter a regular readership. Nevertheless, as a postmodern novel transcending categorisation it is a predominantly satisfying read and hopefully a hint of good things to come from this writer.
Sayonara Bar

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