Firstly, thank you to Edelweiss+ and Pushkin Press for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
I had heard a lot of positive things about this novella which put it on my radar. I don’t really know much about manzai (Japanese comedy duos), so I was curious to find out more about it through this novel. Considering this novel is about comedy, it was unexpectedly tragic in a way (despite making me laugh a few times).
Spark tells the story of comedian Tokunaga who is struggling to make it as a popular manzai. One day he meets Kamiya, a more experienced comedian, who becomes his mentor and teaches him that there is much more to the art of manzai than he originally realised.
It took awhile for me to like Tokunaga, at first I couldn’t help but feel a lot of secondhand embarrassment for him at the beginning. Which is understandable as he is struggling in the world of comedy. I began to like him more as the novel continued, especially when Kamiya was introduced. It was interesting to see how different they were, however not necessarily in a good way. One of the reasons I began to like Tokunaga was because of my dislike of Kamiya. I understand that comedy was his life, like it was for Tokunaga, but to turn everything into a joke was a bit much. It was difficult to take a character seriously when they didn’t take anything seriously, however that is the point of him and the way Matayoshi uses him to illustrate their points is well done.
I was very surprised at the tone and direction of this novel, but in a good way. Although, I found the novella slow starting, which due to the length was a decent chunk of it, I loved the second half of the novel when things started to change. I saw Tokunaga develop and got to see how, ironically, tragic this industry can be. How there is a fine line between how to be funny and appreciated by society yet still being able to be true to your own values. Which is something Kamiya lacks. Matayoshi does a great job in exploring the inner workings of this industry, which is interest when the novella itself doesn’t focus on the full manzai act. In fact, we rarely see Tokunaga’s partner.
I’m happy I picked this novella up. Whilst it didn’t quite live up to my expectations just due to the initial pace, I did enjoy and can understand why it has the acclaim it has. It was fascinating to read about a part of Japanese culture that I had never considered before and it was a good way to spend an evening.