Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Review: "The Sailor Who Fell From Grace with the Sea" by Yukio Mishima

It is with great surprise to let you know that the Mishima book that I just read, The Sailor Who Fell From Grace with the Sea, is one that that I liked very much. Late last year, I read The Temple of the Golden Pavilion, probably his most famous work outside of the story “Patriotism” and The Sea of Fertility tetralogy, and I say, without regret, that it is one of the funniest books I have ever read, even if it is for all the wrong reasons. It took something as innocuous as an obsession with a building, and took itself so seriously and with great importance (not to mention the kind of levity you could only find at a children’s funeral), and never once let any of its silly ideas go. All these qualities make it a laugh riot, and judging from the pictures I have seen of Mishima and how he presented himself in life and death, I’m pretty sure that wasn’t his goal. So I came into this novel ready for more samurai tomfoolery, and what I got was something completely different. It has the same overly serious tone and obsession with ideals as The Temple of the Golden Pavilion, but the subject matter fits well with the somber tone, and touches on some pretty heavy themes that are universal, and deeply conflicting. Despite one scene, a lot of the violence is in the language, and the feelings Mishima convey through this aggressiveness come off as sad sometimes, but also quite moving. There are three central characters in the novel. We first meet Fusako, a widowed woman whose life revolves around her 13-year old son Noboru. They have a very strange attachment to each other. Not so much incestuous as very obsessive, with Noboru sneaking looks at his mom in her own room from a hole in a trunk that is in his room. Eventually, Fusako meets Ryuji, a deeply independent and introspective sailor who is questions what he has been doing with his life. Noboru, along with his gang of very intelligent delinquents, admire Ryuji for his willingness to pursue his own dreams in the adult world, which they see as phony and without virtue. Once Ryuji forsakes life at the see to pursue his love for Fusako, Noboru and his gang feel betrayed and ruined, and decide to punish the sailor for his indiscretions. It sounds a bit nutty, but once you read it becomes quite emotional. It isn’t the conflict between childhood and adulthood, but more ideology versus personal happiness, and how they can’t ever really coexist. While it is important to maintain a sense of independent free thought as you grow into adulthood, it is more important, and nobler to think about your responsibilities to others and how you affect them by your actions. This is a short, shocking novel with an ambiguous ending, and a scene of feline mutilation that rivals the cat-skinning scene in Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore. It’s unpleasant at times, and coldly serious, but it is damn good.

Rating: 5/5

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