Tuesday, January 9, 2007

Japanese read: The Sailor who Fell From Grace with the Sea


Following a spin-off from my Murakami obsession, I resolved to delve into more Japanese literature. This led me to Yukio Mishima’s The Sailor Who Fell From Grace with the Sea, which grapples with the uneasy inhumanity of violence. Quiet, restless prose underscores the anarchic tone of the novel. A group of young boys train themselves in intellectual detachment. Misanthropy, the product of their angst, is focused on the family. They perceive the patriarch as a tyrannical force. Everyday living manifests the simple-minded platitudes of the adult world, scorned by this group of self-professed ‘geniuses’.

The opening scene introduces the teenaged Noboru. Locked in his room at night to prevent night-time adventures, self-containment reinforces Noboru’s isolation from his mother and the world. This world is disrupted by his mother’s affair with Ryuji, a naval officer. Abandoning his intangible yet profound love of the sea for the constancy provided by Fusoka, Noboru’s mother, Ryuji reconciles his desire for glory with a different kind of happiness. ‘Glory, as anyone knows, is bitter stuff’ reads the final line of the novel, and indeed, Ryuji’s unsuspecting involvement in Noboru’s world has sinister repercussions.

Violence is wedded with the macabre to produce an unsettling after-taste in the reader. Midway, a scene of protracted, animal cruelty appears. The closure works on the power of suggestion; violence does not need depiction to sear the imagination. Noboru’s flawed objectivity demonstrates that the human condition stems the cultivation of pure impartiality. Rich in metaphor, this brief and composed novel should be embraced by those who are prepared for the confrontational and shocking power of art.

8 comments:

Sara said...

I've been wanting to read more Japanese lit too so this entry is very timely for me. The only Japanese writer that I'm extremely familiar with is Murakami. The violence that you described, mixed in with the other more quiet moments, reminds me of Murakami, so I'm wondering if it's a common thing in Japanese lit. Thanks for the review, because it gives me an idea of what authors to try next. :)

acquisitionist said...

sara, Murakami seems to have a more surreal flavour than Mishima, but both definitely have moments of violent intensity. I still get chills when I think of a particular Murakami scene in A Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, in the midst of the war between Japan and Manchuria. I hope you like Mishima.

be_zen8 said...

If you like Murakami, you might like Banana Yoshimoto. Her writing is quite similar indeed.

acquisitionist said...

be_zen8, thank you, I'll have to read some of Yoshimoto's books soon. Do you have any suggestions of what to start with?

Anonymous said...

The Sailor who.... Is one of my favorite books, and I'm a great fan of Murakami as well. Mishimas "Confessions of a Mask" is my recommendation.

Happy reading.

Anonymous said...

The Sailor who.... Is one of my favorite books, and I'm a great fan of Murakami as well. Mishimas "Confessions of a Mask" is my recommendation.

Happy reading. Anders - Denmark.

acquisitionist said...

Thank you Anders! I really want to get hold of a copy of Confessions of a Mask but haven't been able to yet.

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