The Hunting Gun is a quiet little story about the tangled lives of four people in Japan, presented through letters sent to the unassuming author. It’s unsentimental with how it deals with infidelity and love, and although at times a little bleak, it’s a finely crafted first novella from a future master. Originally released in 1949, it won Inoue the most prestigious literary award in Japan, the Akutagawa Prize, and this beautiful new edition from Pushkin Press is a brilliant celebration of his work.
After publishing a thoughtful poem about a lonely hunter in a sporting magazine, the narrator is surprised to receive a message from a man called Misugi claiming to be the poem’s subject. He also encloses three letters as an explanation for his mood and outlook; one by his niece, Shōko; one by his wife, Midori; and a final letter from his deceased mistress Saiko. These three letters all offer a slightly different view of Saiko’s final days, each subsequent letter revealing slightly more of the affair and exactly how much they all knew.
Inoue has a beautiful way of evoking loneliness, and he has a poetic way of describing what drives people together and apart. Although the three letters addressed to Misugi are presented as the focal point, the real subject is the man himself, and how he treated the people in his life. The cold and slightly detached translation by Michael Emmerich does a brilliant job of capturing the restrained expressions of the Japanese post-war climate as well as the wistful lyricisms of the narrator’s poetry. Some of the female characters are a little thinly drawn, but this can be put down to the short length of the novella, as well as the cultural climate at the time. Overall, it’s a short but eloquent story about human nature and the fundamental differences between loving someone and being loved.