‘The Sailor Who Fell From Grace with the Sea’ by Yukio Mishima ** (Book Club December 2013)

I began this in November rather than December, as the plot so intrigued me that I could not wait to start reading.  Mishima is an author whom I have been meaning to get to for years, and I am pleased that I have finally had the chance to read some of his work, despite not really enjoying it.

The novella takes place in Yokohama, Japan.  I found the storyline rather odd, and very creepy indeed.  A young boy, Noboru, has been schooled in sexual practices by ‘the Chief’, the head of his group of privileged schoolfriends.  He sees nothing wrong or shameful in secretively watching his mother sleep with a man, a sailor, whom she has only just met, through a hollow space in the wall between their bedrooms.  He then delights in telling his friends all about what he has witnessed – behaviour which I personally find incredibly weird.  The novel was also a little too erotic at times for my personal taste.  One of the scenes in The Sailor Who Fell From Grace with the Sea, which details the murder of a cat, made me feel sick to my stomach.  I had to skip the rest of the section with dealt with the murder, and then force myself to read on.

I did not personally warm to any of the characters, and I really came to dislike young Noboru for all of his horrid and odd actions.  He was cold and calculating, and uttered one untruth after another.  The emotions of the protagonists particularly jolt around a little too much at times, rendering their actions and reactions rather unbelievable.  The way in which the relationship between Noboru’s mother, Fusako, and the sailor, Ryuji, develops appears to be rather rushed on the whole.  Some of the technical details – about sailing, or the stock which Fusako’s mother keeps within her shop – are a little wearing after a while, and do not add anything whatsoever to the story.

In The Sailor Who Fell From Grace with the Sea, Mishima makes use of all five senses beautifully.  In so doing, he is able to build up incredibly vivid scenes in the mind, and creates a marvellously sensuous novella in consequence.  I loved his descriptions at times, but this, when coupled with my dislike of the story, renders me unable to give the novella anything more than two stars.  I will be reading more of Mishima’s work in future, as he is an author who has very much intrigued me, but I am hoping that he has penned some books which are not quite so graphic in their scenes.

On the whole, this novella was far darker than I imagined it would be.  Whilst I did not enjoy it overall, Mishima has still crafted a tale which I will be unable to forget for a long time to come.

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