Report: A false pregnancy transforms the life of a lonely employee

This image released by Viking shows "Diary of a void" by Emi Yagi.  (Viking via AP)
This image released by Viking shows "Diary of a void" by Emi Yagi.  (Viking via AP)
This image released by Viking shows "Diary of a void" by Emi Yagi.  (Viking via AP)

This image released by Viking shows “Diary of a Void” by Emi Yagi. (Viking via AP)

This image released by Viking shows “Diary of a Void” by Emi Yagi. (Viking via AP)

“Diary of a Void”, by Emi Yagi (Viking)

Shibata-san, the only woman in her office group, is tired of cleaning up after the men. One day, when her section chief asks her why dirty coffee cups are still lying around for hours after a meeting, she improvises an astonishing lie. “I’m pregnant. The smell of coffee…triggers my morning sickness.

So begins Emi Yagi’s debut novel, “Diary of a Void,” a dark, acerbic, and melancholic story of a woman who fakes pregnancy to fight a work culture that expects women to tidy up and do everything. household chores around the office.

The novel is structured as a series of diary entries that roughly correspond to the 40 weeks of a pregnancy with occasional flashbacks to Shibata’s childhood and a superb flash-forward to her return to work after her graduation. maternity leave.

In a note at the start, translators David Boyd and Lucy North explain that the title echoes that of a handbook issued by Japan’s Ministry of Health to expectant mothers to chronicle their pregnancy and subsequent child development. child – but with a twist. The Japanese word for “mother and child” has been changed to one meaning “empty core” or “void”.

It’s an apt word to describe Shibata’s life. She works for a company that makes the hollow tubes used in everything from plastic wrap to duct tape. It also evokes her intense loneliness and isolation as she struggles to get by as a single woman in the sprawling megalopolis of Tokyo.

Yagi, the editor of a Japanese women’s magazine, writes with authority on contemporary Japanese society, particularly its deep-rooted patterns of gender inequality. At Shibata’s previous job, she was sexually harassed. Later, a woman she meets at “Mommy’s Aerobics” complains that her husband doesn’t lift a finger to help with their newborn baby.

Her tone alternates between indignation and introspection as Shibata records the intrusive and obnoxious remarks people make about her pregnancy – “Hey, is it cool if I touch your bump?” says a colleague – and recalls intimate childhood memories, when she had family and friends to support her.

Despite the trappings of 21st-century life—the bright lights of Ginza, a flashy pregnancy app, and an Amazon Prime subscription—Shibata’s life isn’t easy. Still, it’s a surprise when the novel takes a surreal twist at the end and the big lie takes on a life of its own. This is a first not to be missed.

Lance B. Holton