Teach Us To Outgrow Our Madness - John Nathan This is quite something. These stories really draw you in, if you approach them with an open mind. 'The Day He Himself Shall Wipe My Tears Away' is confusing, but once you've mastered the perspective shifts and un-flagged dialogue, it's a fascinating read. Personally, I did find these techniques detrimental to the reading experience, and was relieved that 'Prize Stock' (my favourite of this collection) used the more conventional paragraph breaks and speech marks. It's definitely the most accessible of the four.

'Teach Us To Outgrow Our Madness' was interesting and disturbing, but I found it a little disappointing, largely because it recycled themes from the first novella (or vice-versa; I don't know which was written first), and perhaps because otherwise it has the potential to be the most poignant of the four. And 'Agwhee the Sky Monster' was deeply unsettling and whimsical at the same time; the ending will certainly linger in my mind.

For me, the value of these stories is in Oe's portrayal of extremes. Madness moves from being something deeply alien (green goggles, 'Happy Days', giant babies) to something distressingly understandable. It's an infinite challenge to make sense out of mental illness, and it never makes for the most accessible read. But I'd say a large part of the challenge to the reader is opening your mind to upsetting truths.

There is clearly more to Oe's stories than just mental disorder. They explore Japan more specifically, the ramifications of war, racism, and the relationship between parents and children. These are serious themes and it is in no way a lighthearted book, but this translation by John Nathan is painfully emotionally articulate - you certainly won't be bored.