The Woman in the Purple Skirt

Natsuko Imamura

The Woman in the Purple Skirt
Faber & Faber
United Kingdom
2 August 2022

The Woman in the Purple Skirt

Natsuko Imamura

I suppose what I’m trying to say is that I’ve been wanting to become the friend of the Woman in the Purple Skirt for a very long time …

The Woman in the Purple Skirt seems to live in a world of her own. She appears to glide through crowded streets without acknowledging any reaction her presence elicits. Each afternoon, she sits on the same park bench, eating a pastry and ignoring the local children who make a game of trying to get her attention.

She may not know it, but the Woman in the Purple Skirt is being watched. Someone is following her, always perched just out of sight, monitoring which buses she takes; what she eats; whom she speaks to. But this invisible observer isn’t a stalker - no, it’s much more complicated than that.


Not very much of consequence happens in this compelling but odd little novel – until it does, with a speed that knocks the reader off balance.

The story begins some way into our narrator’s obsession with the Woman in the Purple Skirt, a dishevelled loner who spends her days eating cream buns and hogging a park bench. The narrator describes herself as the Woman in the Yellow Cardigan, and at first the two women seem like kindred spirits – misfits who have fallen through society’s cracks. But Yellow Cardigan wants more for Purple Skirt. She tracks Purple Skirt’s movements, eating habits, work schedule, interactions and even personal grooming habits. As she escalates from watching to manipulating, the story becomes a strange mash-up of Rear Window, Pygmalion and Single White Female. Yellow Cardigan’s goal is to become friends with Purple Skirt, but, as in most controlling relationships, Yellow Cardigan is dismayed when Purple Skirt begins to display agency and blossom as she makes new connections, becoming less fairy godmother and more jilted stalker.

Her meticulous observations of Purple Skirt expose a debilitating obsession. Her attentions seem harmless, but through small glimpses into Yellow Cardigan’s own life, the novel hints at the devastating consequences on her ability to function.

Natsuko Imamura’s taut study of how isolation feeds obsession creates a feeling of mild but constant foreboding, despite the spare prose. She passes no judgement on Yellow Cardigan – her actions aren’t framed as romantic or menacing or even out of the ordinary. It’s hard not to feel sympathy for Yellow Cardigan and her stunted life, despite her invasion of every part of Purple Skirt’s existence. You might even find yourself rooting for her in the end.

This deadpan novel joins the ranks of other recent Japanese fiction that gives a voice to the oddball underclass, and fans of The Nakano Thrift Shop and Convenience Store Woman will find it a welcome addition.

Rebecca Crisp is a bookseller at Readings Carlton.

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