‘No Longer Human’ by Osamu Dazai (August 2013)

No Longer Human tells the life story of Yozo, a Japanese man who believes that he has been a social outcast since his birth, fitting in nowhere and with nobody. I found the few relationships which he formed and his blatant awkwardness in any social situation most interesting in consequence. I really liked the social aspects which Dazai wove in from the outset – for example, Marxism, education, servants, materialism, growing up, independence and the trouble it brings, poverty and wealth and the ease with which one can slip into the former category. Yozo is quite detached from everything, and in consequence, some of his actions feel rather cruel and callous.

The introduction to No Longer Human is marvellously insightful, particularly when it speaks of the sharp divide between East and West. I found No Longer Human incredibly sad on the whole, and felt that it was a very poignant tale. It was quite difficult for me to identify with the narrator as our lives are poles apart, but I loved gaining an insight into his thoughts, particularly as they were so different to mine. On the whole, the novel feels rather quiet in its style and telling, but therein is where the power lies.

It is clear that there is a real love of vocabulary at play here, and each word seems to have been chosen with such care. It has been well translated, almost lovingly so. The narrative voice is engaging and rich, and fits the tale perfectly. I find it incredibly sad that this is a semi-autobiographical novel. The loneliness which Yozo felt made me want to reach into the novel and give him an enormous hug, but I think that such a solitary bleakness of and for life was the entire point of the book. Distancing himself from others and the society in which he lives serves to define him as a person. Without it, who would he be?

The novel is told in a series of notebooks, and once the third of these began, I found that I actually quite disliked the narrator. His decline is well realised, and Dazai has marvellously illustrated how inner and outer personas can differ so drastically – that you can be seen as a ‘good boy, an angel’ despite having such horrid thoughts.

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