A band of savage 13-year-old boys reject the adult world as illusory, hypocritical, and sentimental, and train themselves in a brutal callousness they call 'objectivity'. When the mother of one of them begins an affair with a ship's officer, he and his friends idealise the man at first; but it is not long before they conclude that he is in fact soft and romantic. They regard this disallusionment as an act of betrayal on his part - and the retribution is deliberate and horrifying.
©1965 Copyright 1965 by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. Copyright renewed 1993 by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. Originally published in Japanese as Gogo No Eiko by Kodansha in 1963. (P)2010 Audible, Inc
"Mishima's greatest novel, and one of the greatest of the past century." (The Times)
"Coolly exact with his characters and their honourable motives. His aim is to make the destruction of the sailor by his love seem as inevitable as the ocean." (Guardian)
"Told with Mishima's fierce attention to naturalistic detail, the grisly tale becomes painfully convincing and yields a richness of psychological and mythic truth." (Sunday Times)
I can only agree with a previous reviewer. The novel itself is very moving and exquisitely done. It has a fluid, effortless flow, and at the same time is unrelentingly brutal (and really not for the faint of heart). In some aspects it reminded me of "The Lord of the Flies", of "Crime and Punishment" and Sartre's "The Nausea". In one of the strongest scenes in the book, a group of boys kill and "dissect" a stray kitten in order to train themselves in "perfect lack of feeling" -- I had a very hard time listening to this. But the most striking thing is the seeming ease with which the writing shifts between points of view, between past and present, between events and reminiscences. It could have been an outstanding audiobook.
But unfortunately it isn't, and that is due to the reader. It's a shame, because Brian Nishii reads very clearly and pronounces all the Japanese names correctly. But for some reason he almost always seems to emphasize the wrong part of the sentence. It's as if he reads every sentence separately, with no notion of context. In the end, it was possible to follow and enjoy the writing, but I had to overcome the flaws in the narration to do that. And that's the exact opposite of what an audiobook narrator should do.
Bottom line: recommended, but proceed with caution.
Mishima's writing is so expertly precise that it could be compared to the craftsmanship of a master watch maker. Mishima leads us like clock work to the ultimate unfolding of his story but fooling us on the way with poetic and literary meanderings. Like no other writer, he pulls us inside the characters' heads and their thinking. Like no other writer, he manages to elevate the banal and the routine of daily lives into more complex perspectives. It's a beautifully written book.
Bohemian Bon Vivant
One wonders why this is even remembered, let alone revered in any way. It covers similar ground to Lord of the Flies, but is less well written and visually memorable. Maybe something's lost in the translation (it's definitely lost in the bland reading), but it was just ... eh ... so what. Years and years ago I saw the film version (with the setting and characters relocated to the UK rather than Japan). That wasn't that interesting either but it was more interesting than this. Easy pass on this one. I didn't feel transported into their world ever. It was plodding and pedestrian without much in the way of thought provoking ideas or memorable situations or imagery or mood.
"The Tragedy of Both Worlds"
I have wandered through two long audiobooks, Dickens' "Bleak House" and Pynchon's "Against the Day", the latter in which I became lost so irretrievably that I needed a rescue team to get me out - I have no intentions to return in the foreseeable future, despite "Mason & Dixon" occupying the top spot in my books as my favourite piece of literature.
In short, I needed a change, preferably something modest in length. A Japanese friend of mine, a teacher of Japanese literature, recommended Mishima, and to my joy there are a few audiobooks available here on Audible.
I started with "The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With the Sea", and I was thoroughly impressed. Not only is there some utterly beautiful language, which also means that the English translation is commendable, but the sheer energy of the narrative is superb. Sure, this is a dark place to descend to, but Mishima really knows how to take us there: despite the short length of the novel, he takes his time, sets up the pieces, and not only alludes to a violent climax, he makes it the obvious outcome by the time of the ruby heart in the boys' hands. Yet still, when we get to the inevitable, he is able to transcend mere brutality, angst and anarchism. It's a masterful ending to a masterfully narrated story, and I hope I'm not spoiling too much by pointing out how wonderful it really is.
The book is a modern tale of alienation, and, as the Chief states towards the end, "the world is empty." I think Mishima is able to describe that emptiness evocatively enough to make it plausible, but also do the nigh-impossible, that is, not severe his ties with the other world, which in the novel is the world of the adults, and parents. And because of the fluidity of his writing, it feels like he's guiding us on a boat through the river, whence we can see both shores, and the tragedy of both worlds.
Next, I'm going to listen to the sound of waves.
Hypnotic, scary. The language is beautiful, the story sharply defined, the message unnerving. Probably worth a reread or two
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