Saturday, 12 April 2014

Some Prefer Nettles by Junichiro Tanizaki

"They gazed rigidly forward as they spoke, the one seeing the line of the other's nose dimly through the corner of the eye."

It is hard to believe this novel was written in 1929, perhaps because it deals with such a constrained subject as the loss of passion in a marriage and the reticence of both parties to move on. Kaname and Misako still love each other and their young son, but everyone is wearing a mask to the outside world, pretending their circumstances are perfect to shield the void within. This is a story that could happen anywhere and anytime in many ways. The fear of social reprisals through divorce may not be as all pervasive these days ( except in some cultures where it is not an option) yet, there remains a sense of failure that divorce is imbued with and that often keeps couples together who would be better apart.

The sense of timelessness is not the result of a particularly modern translation either, this particular edition was translated in the 50s. In terms of the aspects of the novel that clearly place it in the Japanese setting such as the puppet shows, the kimonos and the social interactions, they add a layer of both complexity and delight.

This novel is certainly not one I would have picked up were it not for its inclusion in the 1001 books list, but I'm glad I did.

5 out of 5 unhappy couples need to let go.

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