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“The soul is dead. All thought is dead.” #mishima #beautifulstar @PenguinBooks

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I’ve mentioned before on the Ramblings how excited I am about the recent new translations of Yukio Mishima‘s works which have been appearing in English; I’ve written about “Star, “The Frolic of the Beasts and “Life for Sale, all of which have been marvellous, as well as shifting my view of the author a little. Today sees the publication of another of his books which has never been rendered into English before: it’s “Beautiful Star”, translated by Stephen Dodd, and it’s apparently the work which Mishima considered to be his masterpiece.

“Beautiful Star” was first published in 1962 and tells the story of the Osugi family. As the book opens, the family have discovered that they are all extra-terrestrials, and are setting off to watch out for flying saucers. The father is from Mars, mother from Jupiter, son from Mercury and daughter from Venus. This knowledge is one of the things which helps them to cope with the horrors of the modern world and brings them together as a family. As the residents of Hanno, the local small town in which they live, consider them a bunch of misfits, it’s a good thing they have that solidarity… So they study the stars and watch the heavens, worrying all the time about nuclear war and what the human race is doing to the planet, this ‘beautiful star’.

It was one of those magnificent starry skies never visible in the big city. The stars were embedded in the firmament like spots on a leopard’s fur. The atmosphere was crystal clear, and the arrangement of stars – some distant, some closer – revealed the true depths of the night sky. Light flowed into haze-like clusters, in such a way that those looking on thought they saw nets being cast into a misty expanse of starlight.

Each member of the family tries to tackle the problem in a different way; Juichiro, the father, sets up an organisation for world peace and tries to contact other extra-terrestrials to help save humanity. Initiially, his son Kazuo and daughter Akiko work with him and help with his quest; however, Kazuo is tempted by politics and thinks with the right influence and contacts, he will be able to influence events in a positive way. Akiko, however, makes contact with a young man who claims to be a fellow Venusian and she cannot be persuaded to keep away from him. And unfortunately, Juichiro’s increasingly high public profile will attract extra-terrestrials who are less tolerant of flawed humanity and may have other ideas of how things should progress. It soon becomes clear that aliens are not all benevolent and come in as many types as human beings. A clash is inevitable – but what will be the result?

Of course, this being Mishima, nothing is straightforward in “Beautiful Star”. As the book progresses, the author drops in little hints which make you think, “Aha! they’re not really aliens – they just can’t cope with the modern world.” And once you’ve adjusted to this kind of thinking, he then throws something in which makes you swing back to your original thoughts! This is a very clever, subtle narrative which could be read in a number of ways and I imagine that’s what Mishima was intending.

“Beautiful Star ” could easily have been a trite book with a sweet family of aliens trying to help humanity (think of all manner of daft TV shows since its publication); but it’s actually something much darker. As with “Life for Sale” it’s quite clear that Mishima was extremely disaffected with the society around him, and there are references to Hiroshima, Auschwitz and the Nazis; it shouldn’t be forgotten that WW2 was still very recent, including the destruction wrought upon Japan, and there’s a sense here that Mishima is observing a broken generation in a broken world. The Osugis may be aliens or may just be alienated from modern Japanese society; but the plot is a clever premise which allows Mishima to discuss human characteristics and frailties, as well as decrying the state of the modern world.

Every morning, the newspapers are crammed full of human-interest stories, and on television we see one human after another. When animals do make an occasional appearance, they are ascribed human characteristics to make them palatable. And people only talk about themselves. Even if the subject is natural phenomena like earthquakes, tsunamis or cherry blossoms coming into full bloom, everything is seen in terms of the impact on people. Nothing delights people more than to talk about people dying or being killed.

It has to be said that this *is* a novel of ideas, and there are chapters where the various protagonists debate humanity, the point of life or death, the future of the planet and the threat to it. It’s worth remembering the nuclear tensions in the early 1960s and the underlying thread of the Bomb which hung over the world during the Cold War; this obviously affected Mishima and I would guess this book was very much his response to that.

As well as those conflicts and tensions, though, Mishima is also meditating quite deeply on what it means to be human. The world he portrays is full of people absorbed in consumerism (what would he think about today!!), desperately trying to fill up whatever void they feel within themselves with stuff. The Osugis are looking for something more, but will all be betrayed; and the end of the book was extremely moving and perhaps unexpected. I’m still thinking about it now…

So “Beautiful Star” turned out to be a magnificent read; lyrical, beautiful, sad, funny, thought-provoking and brimming with ideas, I get why Mishima rated it so highly! I’d have to re-read the rest of his work to see where I think this sits, but it’s so interesting and, as you can see from the amount of post-its in my copy, full of beautiful prose and provocative thoughts which I wanted to go back to. I’m not really sure why this (and the other recent new translations) haven’t been made available in English before; as far as I’m concerned, they’re wonderful additions to the range of Mishima’s work now published in English, and I can’t thank the recent translators enough!

“Beautiful Star” is published today by Penguin; many thanks to the publisher for kindly providing the review copies! 😀

#1954Club – looking back at some previous reads!

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As soon as Simon and I had decided on 1954 for our next club, I started having a look round to see which books were published during that year and it soon became clear that it was a bumper one! Today I thought I would take a look back at some previous titles I’ve read from the year – and there really are some wonderful ones!

Firstly, here’s an image of some of the 1954 books I read pre-blog and which still live on my shelves. There’s used to be “Lord of the Flies” which I read decades ago, but no longer own. Truth be told, I would happily have revisited any of the above. Christie is always a joy, of course, as are Mishima and Simenon. Huxley was read so long ago I can recall nothing about the book – I believe I acquired in my teens when I first fell in love with The Doors! I had a bit of a Stein/Toklas thing in my twenties, and that’s when I acquired “The Alice B. Toklas Cook Book” – flicking through it I recognised bits and would rather like another read. As for “The Mandarins“, again in my twenties I fell in love with French literature and read a *lot* of Simone de Beauvoir; however, this title sat on the shelves for years until I finally read it and adored it. Really, all of these books make me think I should have a month or two (or maybe a year…) of just re-reading…

As for 1954 books which have appeared on the Ramblings, well here are a few!

I was very late coming to the works of Tove Jansson; I think her “Summer Book” was the first I read, and I moved on to read more adult works as well as all of the lovely Moomins. “Moominsummerr Madness” appeared in 1954, and I said of it in 2015:

Apart from looking for deeper meanings, the stories are just a fun read; the characters are appealing and funny, and Jansson’s illustrations are wonderful.

There’s definitely more to the Moomins than meets the eye, and I guess that’s why they can be appreciated by adults and children alike!

Francoise Sagan’s “Bonjour Tristesse” was her first novel and an instant hit. Telling the story of intense emotions in the south of Franch, with a sometimes unsympathetic teenage narrator, it probably set the tone for the rest of her works. I read it in 2014, again after it had lurked on the TBR for some time, and thought:

The characters, none of whom are particularly likeable, are very strongly portrayed, as is the hot and dreamy atmosphere of the South of France before the commercialism really took over. I really enjoyed getting lost in this book.

I do love books which take me to the South of France before the multi-millionaires took charge!

Finally from my previous 1954 reads is “Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead” by Barbara Comyns, a lovely old green Virago edition. Just look at that striking cover! I read and reviewed this back in 2012, and it was my first Comyns. In fact, if I’m honest, I don’t think I’ve read another since, though I have many on the TBR. Comyns gets much love from book bloggers and she’s a unique author – quirky and brilliant, based on my reading of this. I said at the time:

The story itself is full of death and disaster yet somehow manages to be funny, touching and very human. There is love, death, madness, laughter and sorrow. The cause of the madness is discovered (though I confess I did guess this quite soon!), although not soon enough to stop some very tragic deaths. Despite the story being quite gruesome in places it’s very, very enjoyable which is a tribute to Comyns’ skill as a writer. One of the most memorable Viragos I’ve read and highly enjoyable!

So those are just a few of my previous 1954 reads – it really *was* quite a year for books, wasn’t it? Have you read any of these? And what books from 1954 have you enjoyed in the past??

“All the demons of the modern age had been swept away…” #LifeForSale #Mishima #JapaneseLiteratureChallenge

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Having spent some time in Japan with Uno Chiyo, I thought it would be nice to continue with my reading for the Japanese Literature Challenge, and as I featured in my start-of-the-year post, I did have a number of options – in particular two titles by the great Yukio Mishima. He’s another long-time favourite of mine, and I was so happy when previously untranslated works by him began to appear in English. I’ve recently read and enjoyed The Frolic of the Beasts and “Star (which appeared as an extra edition no. 51 in the Penguin Moderns set). Another new title, published in English in 2019, and originally in Japan in 1968, is “Life for Sale” and so after an interesting, but not sparkling, experience with Uno Chiyo, I thought the Mishima might be a little livelier. Boy, was I right…

“Life for Sale”, translated by Stephen Dodd, opens with our protagonist, Hanio Yamada, coming round from an attempted suicide. As he’s failed to end his life, he now regards the latter as expendable and so offers it as a commodity for sale to the highest bidder. Having placed an ad to this effect in a Tokyo newspaper, he’s unprepared for the madness he seems to have unleashed as one crazy event happens after the other. An old man who hisses between his false teeth appears, wanting Hanio to have a fling with the old man’s ex, so that mobsters will kill them both. This does not go to plan, however, and Hanio is then drawn into a complicated plot involving a rare library book. Then there’s the affair of the vampire woman, whose son ends up bonding with Hanio. And the coded messages for Countries A and B. Then the affair with the druggy heiress with a posh annexe house. All the time Hanio has the feeling that he’s being watched. And who *is* this mysterious organisation called the Asia Confidential Service? As Hanio staggers from one madcap event to another, he begins to wonder what his life really *is* worth…

It was a strange, bright afternoon. An afternoon in which something gigantic had been misplaced, a spring afternoon that felt empty and full of light.

Well, “Life for Sale” is a hell of a read! The narrative itself is a rollercoaster of crazy happenings; I hesitate to use the word madcap for a book which actually explores quite dark material, but there *is* the feel of an old Hollywood screwball comedy at times, mixed with some of the violence and insanity of something like Dashiell Hammett’s “Red Harvest.” Hanio rattles from one adventure to another, all the while wondering what the point of anything is. It’s worth remembering that this book was published only two years before Mishima’s attempted political coup and ritual suicide, and certainly death seems to have been much on his mind. Also shining through is his contempt for modern Japanese culture and his hankering for the old ways. A telling part of the book for me was when Hanio encounters the heiress’s parents, who are content with their tranquil lifestyle, happy to wait for their death to come naturally. It’s rather chilling to comtemplate how the book kind of reflects his fatalistic frame of mind and lack of connection with life in the 1960s.

There he had been, putting all his effort into hurrying towards death. But here were a husband and wife in no hurry to die. A scattering of cherry-blossom petals, blown on the wind, lay in the garden. In the pleasant midday cool of a shaded room, the old man’s white hand turned the pages of his Tang poetry book. These people were taking all the time in the world to weave together their own deaths, calmly, as if quietly knitting sweaters in preparation for the coming winter. Where did such tranquility come from?

So Hanio expresses contempt for the modern hippie lifestyle, but is equally repelled by the concept of settling down to a ‘normal’ domestic life with the heiress. He’s a man constantly on the run, sometimes unsure it seems about what he’s running from, and it’s only when he realises that other forces are manipulating that his life starts to take on some value in his eyes – at least to the extent that if he is to die, he wants to control how this happens.

Via Wikimedia Commons – see here for attribution: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Yukio_Mishima_01.jpg

“Life…” was an absolutely fascinating and quite thought-provoking read, one I think I will have to go back to at some point and read again, to pick up the underlying nuances as I must confess I raced through the book to find out what would happen to Hanio. I really can’t understand why the book hasn’t been translated before; I know I’ve seen others mention that the new works to appear in English are minor works but “Life…” definitely seems to be have a lot more depth than you might think. Although styled like a pulp narrative, the underlying existentialist themes linger in the mind and end making the reader (at least this one!) wonder about the price of a life and whether we should strive for a steady, productive life or go all out for hedonism!

Mishima published his “Sea of Fertility” series, generally reckoned to be his finest work, during the 1960s and superficially this is a different beast from those books. But it seems to me that Mishima is always exploring the point of existence and although “Life…” looks at the topic in an ostensibly lighter way, I would argue that it’s by no means a minor work. I absolutely loved the book, and it’s definitely going to stay with me – a real winner for the Japanese Literature Challenge, and a really strong incentive to read more of the great man’s work! 😀

A pleasant end to summer – but what bookish joys will September bring??

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As I always seem to be saying to myself, wherever has the month gone? And in this case, wherever has summer gone? Despite having the long break from work, I don’t feel that I did much – well, we did get the windows painted outside the house, and painted the inside ones ourselves, as well as tidying up gardens and clearing out stuff. And Youngest Child came for a long overdue visit, which was lovely, so it hasn’t been entirely inactive!

August Reads!

However, I did manage a decent amount of reading in August, and you can see the stack above. I should hasten to add I did *not* read all of the Derrida, only his piece on Roland Barthes. No duds again this month, and I’m happy to have enjoyed an interesting variety of books!

August has seen a small amount of getting out and about, despite the pandemic and mainly because of the visit of Youngest Child. She’s often been a brilliant shopping companion in the past and we had a lovely trip into the Big Town which involved lunch at the wonderful Hank’s and a little browsing – here are some images from the trip!

Coffee at Nero with a Bookcrossing find!

Lunch at Hank’s – yum!!!

Modest bookfinds – Bookcrossing and the Oxfam

We also managed to escape to the coast another day, and as well as seeing the sea and having seaside chips (yay!), we popped into a couple of bookshops! Treasure Chest Books is an old haunt, but OH managed to find one called Poor Richard’s Books which I can’t recall visiting before (it also had vinyl so that was nice!) There were, of course, purchases…

It was quite overcast but still warm, and I love the sea in any weather!

The seaside town did have some pretty flowers on display, however!

Treasure Chest – a wonderfully labyrinthine bookshop in which it would be possible to spend a whole day…

Youngest Child took this when lost in the depths….

Can’t go wrong with seaside chips! 😀

Seaside book haul! (even had to dig out the KBR tote created by Middle Child!)

As you can see, I had some wonderful finds! The Macfarlane and Barnes came from Treasure Chest, and the other four books from Poor Richard’s Books (which is sadly closing at the end of the year – such a shame…) Very happy with all of these!

As for approaching September reading, I think I may actually be challenge free this month, and I have few plans (if any…) I shall try to reduce the size of the immediately-pending TBR, although my plans are constantly being sabotaged. For example, these two arrived at the end of last week:

Borges and Mishima!!!

The Mishima was inspired by a review on Shiny New Books, and the Borges was mentioned on Twitter I think – I mean, Manguel and Borges, what a combination! Needless to say, the latter didn’t even get a sniff at the TBR, and has been instantly read – review will following eventually (I’m a bit behind), but it made me dig this chunkster out again, and I am now continuing to make my way through Borges’ simply marvellous stories – a joy!!

I also tidied up the Russian shelves over the summer, getting everything nice and tidy, putting them in alphabetical order and rediscovering some marvellous books (as well as realising just how many unread ones I had) – here’s what they look like now:

Some of the Russians….

And, of course, in October we have the #1976Club coming up, so I may well start a little planning/early reading for that. I like to be organised and I’m not sure yet what I’m going to read. It’s nice to have a clean slate and be able to follow my reading mojo wherever it takes me; do you have any plans for September??

“… I ride and ride and I never arrive.” #JapaneseLitChallenge14 #mishima

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Having had an underwhelming experience with my first read for the Japanese Literature Challenge, I didn’t want to let January pass without trying another work from that country; particularly as I’ve read some marvellous books from Japan. An old favourite is Yukio Mishima, an often-controversial figure; and I was delighted when previously untranslated works starting appearing recently in new English versions. So I decided to cheat! I say cheat, because the book I read was no 51 in the Penguin Modern series of bite size loveliness – and I am supposed to be reading the series in order!! However, the Mishima was issued after the box set came out so that’s my excuse, and I’m sticking to it!

The work in question is “Star” and it’s a novella-length work first issued in 1961, in a short story collection of the same name. In contrast to many of his major works, which look back to a golden past in Japan, “Star” is set firmly in the present. It tells of Rikio “Richie” Mizuno, a young actor at the height of his fame who’s nevertheless suffering from insecurity, disillusioned with fame and the film world. Despite being surrounded by hysterical young adoring fans, his most important relationship is with his personal assistant, Kayo. The latter is older that Richie, and considered unattractive; yet she offers the actor emotional and physical support, keeping him grounded in some kind of reality.

… threads of permanence cling to the underbelly of all formulaic poetry. It comes as a false shadow, the refuse of originality, the body dragged around by genius. It’s the light that flashes from a tin roof with a tawdry grace. A tragic swiftness only the superficial can possess.

Aside from the complexities of acting while surrounded by screaming fans, another problem occurs when a struggling actress inveigles her way onto the set and into the film. Things go wrong when she proves not to be up to the task of acting the part, and takes dramatic action. Needless to say, the PR people use this to their advantage, leaving Richie just as full of self-doubt as ever…

Real love always plays out at a distance.

“Star” may be a short work, but it’s just as brilliant and full of impact as any of Mishima’s longer works. Richie is the pefect Mishima character; struggling with the hollowness at the heart of his fame, losing sense of reality because of the number of different personas he has to adopt, his life feels empty and he’s assailed by doubt and ennui. The constant wearing of (metaphorical) masks has detached him from the reality around him; and the intense and unlikely relationship with Kayo is more real to him than anything else. Despite the fact that this anchors him, he acknowledges that the relationship is just as much of an illusion; and the couple can sit and calmly discuss the prospect of his suicide, as if this is a logical end to which his life is headed.

A star is more of a star if he never arrives.

Needless to say, reading this wonderful novella from Mishima has restored my faith in my love of Japanese writing. Inevitably, because of the author’s complex relationship with his country and fame, it’s hard not to imagine him drawing from his own life and feelings when writing “Star”. Mishima had himself recently had a go at movie acting and it apparently proved not to be to his taste; so presumably much of that experience was funneled into this story. It’s a compelling, beautifully written work, and I can’t understand why it’s taken so long for it to appear in translation.

Via Wikimedia Commons – see here for attribution: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Yukio_Mishima_01.jpg

Like my encounter with another recently translated book, “The Frolic of the Beasts“, reading “Star” has reminded me what a stunning writer Mishima was and how I really need to revisit his other works. And rather wonderfully, I also have another previously untranslated work of his sitting on the TBR…. ;

“Star” is translated by Sam Bett, who apparently has received kudos for his work – to which I would like to add my thanks and praise! Any previously untranslated Mishima is very welcome in this quarter!!!

Books and fun – locally!! 😁 #thomasbernhard #simonarmitage #mishima @i_am_mill_i_am @NottingHillEds

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Normally when I share days out meeting friends, lunching and book shopping it means that I’ve had a fun day in London. However, I had an equally lovely day yesterday as my dear friend J. popped over to visit me and we had a great day out in the local Big Town!

Of course, I’m a regular in the local charity shops but they were new to J., so we had a wonderful browse round them, as well as finding some new and interesting crafty shops in an area of the town I don’t normally visit. Lunch was at the amazing Hank’s Deli, a recently-opened vegan place in town – I’ve become something of a regular there!

J. had some great finds in the various shops (and there also were stationery purchases…) Bookwise, however, I was restrained(ish) – I had some library reservations to pick up for a start:

There’s been a lot of buzz on Book Twitter recently about Bernhard thanks to that pesky Andy Miller mentioning him. I’ve been interested for a while so to save the creaking rafters of the house, I reserved a couple of titles from the library to see what I think of him.

As for the charity shops, I remained unscathed until we hit the Samaritan’s Book Cave. There were many temptations in the poetry section, but I restricted myself to a couple of Simon Armitage books I don’t have.

I love Armitage’s writing so these were a real find!

So restrained, for me – until I remembered that I wanted to pop into Waterstones. A particular book had come out that I thought I’d preordered and hadn’t and I wanted to see if it was there – which it was! Our local branch is particularly well stocked…

I’m very excited about this one, as I’ve been rediscovering Mishima of late (as you might have noticed…) – and it’s a very pretty edition bought from a bricks and mortar bookshop – yay me! 🤣🤣

So a lovely time was had by us both and it just goes to prove that you don’t always have to travel far to have a nice day out! 😁

Oh – and as a coda, I may have forgotten to share this recent arrival from the lovely Notting Hill Editions!

Isn’t it beautiful? And as a dog lover, an anthology of writings about our faithful friends is going to be something special for me! I’m looking forward greatly to reading this one; and watch out later this week for a review on the Ramblings of another gorgeous volume from NHE! 😀

Images of beauty and decay #mishima @classicpenguins #Japan

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The Frolic of the Beasts by Yukio Mishima
Translated by Andrew Clare

You might recall me getting a teeny bit over-exited on the Ramblings a while back, when I discovered that some newly-translated Mishima was about to make its debut in pretty Penguin editions. He’s an author I have a history with; as I’ve mentioned before, I went through a serious Japanese lit phase pre blog, and Mishima was something of an obsession. So naturally I picked up the Penguin Modern “Star” and the Modern Classic “The Frolic of the Beasts” as soon as they came out; but I’m having to hold back on the former as I’m reading the Moderns sequentially and it seems wrong to jump ahead… However, “Frolic…” has been sitting there on the shelf looking quizzically at me since it arrived, and as I was in Japanese literature mode recently after reading the Red Circle Minis (more of which later), the time was right for frolicking with Yukio… ;D

With a memory as rubbish as mine, and no proper record of what I read when, I’m going to be hard-pressed to say how this compares to the author’s other works. “Frolic…” is from 1961, so later-period Mishima; his first published novel was 1948, although he wrote short works before that; and he died in 1970. So by the time of “Frolic…” Mishima was an established author, and here he’s definitely at the height of his powers.

“The Frolic of the Beasts” concerns, of course, love and human relations. There are three main protagonists: Koji, a young student madly in love with the older Yuko. She, in turn, is married to the even older Ippei, a literary critic and libertine. The triangle created by these three troubled humans is a complex one, and as the book opens we see the three frozen in time, having their photograph taken by a harbour. There are references to past incidents, and hints of those to come, while Mishima nails his characters to this precise point in their history. It is no secret by the end of that opening that some of the characters are now dead; what follows is a masterly piece of storytelling as the author gradually and beautifully reveals the events which led up to that point.

She folded her parasol, asking the question in her typically sensuous voice, which conjured up the image of a small, stifling room filled with fetid flowers.

We find that Koji has recently returned from a spell in prison, and the reason for this makes his acceptance back into the family of Yuko even more unusual. There was in the past infidelity all round – Ippei had regular mistresses and Yuko had Koji; however, that was not enough for Yuko, and the complex powerplay between her and her husband brought about the first act of violence in the book, for which Koji paid the price. His return to Ippei and Yuko, now living by the coast where Yuko manages a plant nursery, brings tensions to the surface once more. The behaviour of this trio is mirrored by three young people in the town, Kimi and two young men who view for her favours. Kimi is the daughter of Teijiro, who tends the nursery, yet avoids him when she visits the town; here, too, there is baggage. The story unfolds with an inevitability, particularly since we have an inkling of what will happen; and, as the quote on the blurb says, we watch “the three of them – three fish caught in a net of sin“, yet unable to escape.

I’ve deliberately kept my description of events vague, because watching Mishima unfold his tale is mesmerising and too many details would spoil that. As I said, by the time he wrote this book, Mishima was an author totally in control of his characters and story, and the book is quite breathtaking. When I read his “Acts of Worship” for the #1965club I was blown away by his portrayal of the complexities of relationships, and his nuanced rendering here is just as striking. He captures Yuko’s fickleness, cause of so many problems; Koji’s immaturity and obsession with Yuko; Ippei’s arrogance and need to control. And he can completely throw you off balance, as when he drops into the narrative unexpectedly a shocking, almost casual revelation by Kimi’s father.

Koji dreamed of the worlds infiltrated by his dispersed flowers and leaves. He imagined a society of dazzling immensity and grotesque pitch-dark complication where these flowers and leaves hung, as if they were little ribbons secured here and there over its body. The flowers were mere caricatures there. These flowers and leaves would scatter and infiltrate shrewdly, like germs, a variety of entirely useless places in society for the purposes of practical sentimentalism, hypocrisy, peace and order, vanity, death, disease…

But above and beyond his narrative skills, what struck me strongly was his incredibly beautiful prose; it’s marvellously evocative of place, so much so that the setting becomes tangible as you read. The small fishing port of Iro, where much of the book takes place, is vivid and alive; and Mishima’s sense of, and sympathy with, the natural world is powerful and intoxicating.

Via Wikimedia Commons – see here for attribution: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Yukio_Mishima_01.jpg

Mishima’s characters are not necessarily particularly *nice* people; they’re flawed and damaged, and yet I felt sympathy for them as I read. The author seems to basically see humanity as being controlled by animal passions; hence, presumably, the title of the book. The narrative is laden with imagery: of death and decay, of beauty and corruption; and the moral corruption of Mishima’s characters is mirrored in much of the natural world which juxtaposes that beauty with squalor.

I’ve left it a little while before writing about this book, because it was a powerful read and I wanted to let it settle a bit before marshalling my thoughts. “Frolic…” is most definitely a book which stays with you; not only for its compelling and ultimately tragic storyline, but also because of the stunning writing and the images left in the mind after finishing it. I’ve no idea why this book hasn’t been translated into English before, because I thought it was outstanding. Maybe it’s regarded as minor Mishima compared with his more famous works; but for the writing alone it deserves its place in his canon, and frankly if there are any more untranslated Mishimas out there to come my way in the near future, I shall be a very happy woman!

#1965Club – a delicate portrait of a relationship

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Acts of Worship by Yukio Mishima
Translated by John Bester

When I was casting around for possible titles to read for 1965, the name of Yukio Mishima sprang to mind (probably because of my recent over-excitement at new translations of his work). I wondered whether there were any of his works published in the appropriate year and a quick search revealed that a short story under the title “Acts of Worship” was indeed from 1965; and I already have this in a collection with the same title, translated by John Bester! I have of course read this; but it’s so long ago that memory has faded and so it seemed like the perfect way to read from the year whilst reintroducing myself to Mishima…

At 60 pages, “Acts…” is nudging close to novella territory, and it tells the story of the ageing Professor Fujimiya, and Tsuneko, the widow who takes care of his domestic life as well as acting as a kind of general factotum and sitting in with some of his poetry sessions. Tsuneko is a plain woman and the Professor has a wall-eye; their relationship is entirely platonic. Yet, when the Professor sets off for a pilgrimage to the Kumano shrines, he orders Tsuneko to accompany him, much to her shock. There are very strict boundaries in their relationship, set by the Professor, and the story follows them on their journey while exploring those boundaries. It’s a delicate, moving and beautifully written observation of a platonic relationship between two people who nevertheless depend on each other very much, and we watch Tsuneko (the main focus of the story) go through all manner of changing emotions while on the journey.

One rule that life had taught Tsuneko was that the only things that happened to a person with those that were appropriate to him…

I wasn’t wrong when I remembered that Mishima wrote beautifully, because he really does here. His observations of the world, the place of humans in it, their relationships with one another and the complex balance between them are so finely honed; and he evokes his settings marvellously.

Books had spread like mold, eating their way through each of the ten rooms in turn. Overflowing from the study, they encroached on the next room, converting it into a kind of lightless dungeon, then spread along the corridors making it impossible to pass without edging sideways. (No – my house is not that bad – yet…)

The characters of the Professor and Tsuneko are very finely drawn, and not without humour – in particular, the Professor, respected and yet a figure of fun at times, surrounded by his little clique of followers, is quite brilliantly conjured (and I make no apologies for the long quote, because I love it!):

The spectacle of the Professor crossing the cheerful modern campus of Seimei university with a bunch of his disciples in tow was so eye-catching that it had become one of the famous local sites. Wearing glasses tinted a pale mauve, clad in a badly fitting, old-fashioned suit, he walked with the feeble sway of a willow tree in the wind. His shoulders sloped deeply and his trousers were baggy, ill contrasting with hair that was dyed black and slicked down to an unnatural neatness. The students who walked behind him bearing his briefcase wore, as was only to be expected of such a resolutely anachronistic crew, the black uniforms with stiff white collars that everyone else at the university shunned; it gave them the air of a suite of ill-omened ravens. As in the sickroom of someone gravely ill, they were not permitted to speak in loud or over lively voices. Such conversation as took place was carried out in whispers, so that people watching from a distance would remark with amusement: “There goes the funeral again!“

And the two main characters are very separate and yet so intertwined. As Tsuneko recognises at the end, when the scales fall from her eyes and she sees the Professor clearly, part of her function is to help him maintain his illusions, which are in turn his coping mechanism. She however needs the Professor in order to have a function and place in life, and so the two are co-dependent in a delicately balanced relationship which is beautifully observed and written. The story also captures Mishima’s country at a time of change, with the hints of the traditional dress being discarded by most of the young, and I was intrigued by the fact that Mishima was in some ways mocking the old-fashioned style when he was a man who ended up sacrificing all for tradition…

Via Wikimedia Commons – see here for attribution: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Yukio_Mishima_01.jpg

“Acts of Worship” is a wonderfully told and memorable story and it was the perfect way to become reacquainted with Mishima. I’m keen to re-read the whole collection (and why is there no collected short stories available in English???) as well as move on to the newly translated works – I feel I have treats in store!

In which I get inordinately overexcited about some new releases… #mishima #penguinmoderns

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I think ony bookish peeps would understand the high state of excitement I got myself into at the end of last week…. I subscribe to a number of bookish and publishers’ newsletters (probably not a good thing for me to do) and one from lovely Penguin popped into my inbox with a focus on Japanese writing. Now I read a lot of JapLit back in my preblog days and still have some unread volumes on the shelves which I keep meaning to get to. However… while scrolling down the newsletter I spotted something fairly eye-popping – what appeared to be a book by Yukio Mishima which I’d never heard of!!

Via Wikimedia Commons – see here for attribution: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Yukio_Mishima_01.jpg

My first thought was that it was a new translation of a book I’d already got but under a different title – I’ve been caught like that before. So, I clicked off to the Penguin site to explore and found out that not only was this a newly published title which hadn’t been translated before, but also that there was a new Penguin Modern (no 51!!!!) of another story of his which is freshly translated. Time for a quick meltdown at the Ramblings….

See, I read everything by Mishima back in the day and absolutely adored his writing. But I haven’t revisited it for donkeys and I thought there wasn’t anything new to come. Wrong!!!! Needless to say both new Penguins arrived promptly at the Ramblings and here they are looking very pretty. So exciting!!

And just for the fun of it, I’ll share a few images of all of my Mishima books. Here they are, nestling on the Japan shelves:

And here’s the first selection, including his famous tetralogy:

And the rest, including a couple of biographies:

There is I think another which I read from the library and don’t own – I may have to rectify that for the sake of completeness… Interestingly, Mishima is responsible for me first setting up an Amazon account back in the day. I was very resistant to buying books anywhere but in a bricks and mortar bookstore, but I wanted a decent biography of him. However, I enquired in Waterstones, and they said there was an American one but that they weren’t able to order it in… Hence my Amazon account. But I have forgiven Waterstones and still love to buy books there (as will be seen from my regular Waterstones Wobbles!)

Mishima was a troubled and strange man, whose dramatic end probably overshadows his work to a certain extent. However I remember being knocked out by the beauty of his writing and I can’t wait to find out what I think of his work nowadays.

Of course, this does also generate a worrying thought – if there’s a Penguin Modern 51, there are obviously going to be some more…..

What to read for the #1951Club??

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One of the real joys of our reading clubs (where we focus on books from a particular year) is the fact that you get an excuse to rummage among the stacks and find out exactly which books from the year in question you actually own! I’ve been pretty good during previous clubs and have stuck almost completely to books I already owned. Coming to 1951 it seems I have rather a lot of volumes to choose from – and here they are in a lovely big stack! 🙂

This is probably not all the books I have in my collection from the year (there’s an Elizabeth Taylor for a start) but they’re all titles that appeal in one way or another. For a start, there’s plenty of Maigret:

I *could* just read nothing but Maigret all week – and that would be quite a pleasure! But there are other crime titles too:

I’ve read one Durrenmatt title and it was good, if dark; the Christie is that rare thing, one of her titles that I don’t think I’ve read!! And the Tey is one of my favourite crime books ever – but it gave me great grief when I was pulling books off the shelf to photograph! I knew which shelf my Teys *used* to be on, but having had a shuffle I wasn’t sure if they were still there. I looked on the shelf – not there. Searched the rest of the likely places but with no luck. Looked on the original shelf – still no joy. Looked in less likely places but to no avail. Went back to the original shelf and found them tucked up a corner behind some other ones – how do books do that??

If I need a break from crime these two are possibles – I haven’t read Steinbeck or Mitford for ages, so both would be good to pick up.

And then there are the heavier titles:

Of these, I *know* I’ve read the Greene and the Mishima; I *may* have read the Nabokov; and I don’t think I’ve read the Camus. These would probably take a bit more commitment, and I’m not sure if I’m in the right place mentally to revisit the Greene – we shall see!

So, plenty of choice from books I already own, though no doubt there will be temptation from all the interesting suggestions people come up with.  Watch this space to see what I *do* read! 🙂

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