Thirty-four-year-old Ms Shibata works for a company manufacturing cardboard tubes and paper cores in Tokyo. Her job is relatively secure- she’s a full-time employee, and the company has a better reputation than her previous workplace, where she was subject to sexual harassment by clients and colleagues.
But the job requires working overtime almost every day. Most frustratingly, as the only woman, there’s the unspoken expectation that Ms Shibata will handle all the menial chores- serving coffee during meetings, cleaning the kitchenette, coordinating all the gifts sent to the company, emptying the bins.
One day, exasperated and fed up, Ms Shibata announces that she can’t clear away her colleagues’ dirty cups, because she’s pregnant. She isn’t. But her ‘news’ brings results- a sudden change in the way she’s treated. Immediately a new life begins. Written in diary form, Diary of a Void is an ironic and playful reference to the Japanese ‘Maternal and Child Health Handbook’ (Boshi Techo; the novel’s original title), a notebook issued to all expectant mothers in Japan so they can record the details of their pregnancies and experiences of motherhood until their child is six years old. By turns hilarious and thought-provoking, Ms Shibata’s diary of her fake pregnancy not only skewers universal patriarchal attitudes towards maternity and pregnancy, it also challenges the truth of conception on many levels. For fans of Convenience Store Woman, Kim Jiyoung, Born in 1982, and The Vegetarian, this is a wonderfully witty and smart, feminist novel poking fun, but with serious intent, at the sanctity of motherhood, and how society superficially reveres mothers while conversely making actual parenting a sometimes disempowering and isolating experience without the right support.