After the Nobel laureates discussion, I did a bit of research on those writers who were recommended to me; in most cases I simply put one of their books on my Amazon list, but I was interested enough in what leex said about this one to go out and get it straight away from the bookshop near work.
It's an intensely written novel about a man whose wife gives birth to a baby with a damaged brain; and he slips back into alcohol and the arms of a former girlfriend while deciding if he will let the child live or die. The prose is very direct, so much so that I found the sex scenes spell-binding but not particularly erotic or arousing.
I found the geography of the book particularly intriguing; the landscape of the city is described in detail, yet nothing seemed particularly Japanese about it - perhaps showing how well Ōe manages to grasp the essentials of the human condition. At the same time there is a sub-plot with a small Balkan diplomatic crisis (probably Bulgarian, though the author is vague) and with Africa portrayed as a place of escape and refuges - an interesting contrast to the colonial approach of the last novel I read!
Tough reading for me, for a number of reasons, but worth it in the end.