Author: Sayaka Murata
Translator: Ginny Tapley Takemori
Publisher: Granta Books
Date: 2020 (2018)
Summary: Natsuki isn’t like the other girls. She has a wand and a transformation mirror. She might be a witch, or an alien from another planet. Together with her cousin Yuu, Natsuki spends her summers in the wild mountains of Nagano, dreaming of other worlds. When a terrible sequence of events threatens to part the two children forever, they make a promise: survive, no matter what. Now Natsuki is grown. She lives a quiet life with her asexual husband, surviving as best she can by pretending to be normal. But the demands of Natsuki’s family are increasing, her friends wonder why she’s still not pregnant, and dark shadows from Natsuki’s childhood are pursuing her. Fleeing the suburbs for the mountains of her childhood, Natsuki prepares herself with a reunion with Yuu. Will he still remember their promise? And will he help her keep it?
The award for the most misleading book cover and summary goes to… Earthlings!
Yeah, this book was weird. It’s been a month since I read it and I still don’t know how I feel about it. This is probably going to be a disjointed review because I just don’t know what to say.
I really don’t want to spoil it for the people that want to read it but I recommend reading the content warnings on The StoryGraph (if you use it) or some of the reviews on Goodreads if you’re concerned because there’s a lot going on. Some of it is weird and some of it is just plain disturbing.
I still think the first two chapters – which were about Natsuki’s childhood – were too much, perhaps too detailed, and I would very much like to remove the memory of them from my brain. Aspects of these chapters were definitely needed to drive the plot but, personally, I found the level of detail and apathetic writing style rather disturbing. For me, the book got better – but perhaps weirder – as it shifted to exploring her life as an adult and the way that she, and her husband, view the world. They’re an odd couple, a very odd couple, but their relationship speaks of a necessity to conform to social norms even if you don’t want to. Murata’s society is realistically restrictive. It’s intrusive and unwelcome but also accepted because people have to accept it. The story continues to be violent and disturbing but I was so horrified by the first two chapters that the rest of the book didn’t really phase me.
What I like most about Murata’s writing (and perhaps Ginny Tapley Takemori’s translation) is the intensity of the characters. They’re just all so vibrant and animated. I also love Murata’s storytelling – even when I don’t particularly like where the plot is going – because it’s almost whimsical and yet deeply grounded in reality. It’s an odd mix and I’m not sure how to actually describe it but I really think that Murata is an amazing writer and I’m very thankful for Ginny Tapley Takemori’s translations of her work.
Overall, I’m still confused by this book. I found parts of it intriguing but other parts were too uncomfortable to read.
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Read as part of the Japanese Literature Challenge.