Saturday, April 9, 2016

Review: "A Personal Matter" by Kenzaburo Oe

The problem I have with A Personal Matter, the short novel by Nobel Laureate Kenzaburo Oe is the same problem I had with Yukio Mishima’s Temple of the Golden Pavilion a few years ago: it tells an ugly story, and it’s lack of any kind of humor makes it that much more ugly, and therefore, a rather unpleasant reading experience, no matter if it is good or well-written, both which I’d say are. But this book makes Mishima’s novel look like a children’s cartoon, and will probably share a cozy, dark spot in my brain next to other books that fundamentally bothered me and turned my stomach, like Jack Ketchum’s Stranglehold and Joyce Carol Oates’ Zombie (pretty diverse company, I must say). The story begins on the urban streets of Japan, as a man named Bird stumbles from one venue to the next. He runs into a tranny prostitute who offers him sex, a few retail clerks who want to help, and gets into a fight with a gang of young hoods, who meet his confrontation with disgust instead of the desire physical violence. We find out in the next chapter that he has just given birth to child with a brain hernia, which means it will either die soon or live life as a total vegetable. This causes him to lose all control. He gets fired from his job, and for most of the novel he shacks up with Humiko, a girl from his youth who has become a prostitute. Bird’s early life is exposed as well, and to say it does not endear him is a massive understatement. From its ghoulish climax to it’s depressing, and infuriating ending, this is a dark, humorless book that offers no joy or even clarity. It’s a novel of great power and insight, I won’t take that from it, but it’s not something I will look back in fondly and despite my rating, I can’t wholeheartedly recommend it.

Rating: 4/5

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