Solo Dance by Li Kotomi

Solo Dance is a novel about a Taiwanese lesbian in Japan, struggling to find hope in her life whilst working an office job and dealing with mental health issues. The protagonist is in her late twenties, reinvented and renamed herself when she moved to Japan after university in Taiwan, and lives a double life: in the office, everyone is talking about marriage and children and their position in the company, whereas she also goes to gay clubs and meets other lesbians online. The narrative moves between her present and her past as she searches for belonging, thinks about queer literature, and faces everyday homophobia.

Translated from Japanese, this short novel is a sad one, occasionally bittersweet, with the protagonist’s trauma and mental health playing a crucial part in the book, and sexual assault and suicide part of the narrative. Despite this, there’s also beauty, both that she finds in the world and in her interests, especially in her connection with literature. I hadn’t heard of most of the books and writers referenced in Solo Dance, so I’m excited to explore those too, especially Qiu Miaojin who plays a vital part in the protagonist’s construction of herself. The experiences of queer people in different countries is an underlying theme, explored through the protagonist’s experiences and her travels, and the people she meets, and I found this a powerful part of the book.

This is no light read, with a pretty depressing plot and tackling a lot of serious issues, but I found it engrossing and read it quickly, especially drawn in by the protagonist’s use of literature to explore self and culture and the exploration of queer life for an outsider in a country.