As an outstanding young Japanese medical student at the end of the nineteenth century, Dr. Shimamura is sent to the provinces: he is asked to cure scores of young women afflicted by an epidemic of fox possession. Believing it’s all a hoax, he considers the assignment an insulting joke, until he sees a fox moving under the skin of a young woman.
There is little that is fixed in Christine Wunnicke’s glittering, absurdist jewel of a novel ... Wunnicke paints nightmarishly hectic European scenes in a palette of absinthe and Toulouse-Lautrec, and alternates them with nightmarishly static scenes of Shimamura’s declining, colorless present in Japan. Connections proliferate like reflections in a house of mirrors, fascinating and also vaguely queasy — the narrative is disorienting in every sense of the word. But absurdist fiction, like psychotherapy, requires an investment of energy and a suspension of judgment. The Fox and Dr. Shimamura is worth the effort.
Wunnicke displays a certain facility with persiflage, especially when she humorously dissects the sexist and voyeuristic male gaze lurking behind certain aspects of early 20th-century psychoanalysis ... However, Wunnicke’s writing can, at times, fall flat and even grate (at least in translation). Her narrator, for example, is anything but omniscient (a self-evident irony) ... Abrupt transitions, meandering paragraphs, and inessential passages...might even indispose some readers, possibly causing them to overlook a number of the book’s more interesting narrative elements ... It is a promising premise—the hazy unreliability of memory with its intermingling of fact and fiction—cleverly draped in the lineaments of literary criticism. If only the satirical intent underpinning and informing the narrative had been as nebulous.
... a puzzling, unsettling book. It has the feel of a story told half-asleep, with clear details and vague overall effect. What begins in promising magical realism veers into surrealist historical fiction, leans toward medical interests, and is likely to leave most readers behind with that turn. Christine Wunnicke is certainly a daring international voice, but her crossover potential into mainstream fiction seems limited ... The novel loses all momentum associated with such passages as it goes forward ... opaque and meandering, difficult to follow or to trust ... That is not to suggest that it’s a bad book. The craftsmanship at work here isn’t user-friendly and is not intended to be, which makes it a fairly inaccessible book, but it has garnered glowing reviews all around the world. Sometimes, the prose takes flight unexpectedly ... However, for those whose reading interests lean toward clarity of plot and purpose, The Fox and Dr. Shimamura is not one to take home.