M Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction and Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel and post Colonial Asian Fiction are some of my Literary Interests

de classics, modern fiction,
We



Saturday, October 31, 2009

"Some Prefer Nettles" by Junichiro Tanizaki

Some Prefer Nettles is the fourth work by Junichiro Tanizaki  that I have read.   (It was first published in 1928 in serial fashion in a literary publication.   The version I read was translated from Japanese by Edward Seidensticker in 1951.)   Like Quicksand  it has as its center a failed marriage, though of a different kind and among people of a very different sort.


Misako and her husband Kaname got married at a time of matrimonial transition from arranged marriages through family connections or brokers to marriages of romantic love.    They are in their mid thirties and have a son, Hiroshi, about twelve.  They do not hate each other, plot against each other or have horrible fights.  The husband simply feels no sexual attraction for his wife.   They can and do have civil conversations but they are described as like two strangers in an inn sharing a bed when the inn is full.   The husband even encourages his wife to start an affair with a male friend of hers to ease her into another marriage.   The father of Misako is the third central character in Some Prefer Nettles.    He is refereed to simply as "the old man".   He has been a widower for a long time, has enough money to live a cultivated life of leisure and keep a mistress the same age as his daughter.   Misako, of course, is embarrassed by the fact

that her father lives with a woman her own age and  she treats the mistress with thinly disguised contempt.  She sees her as sort of like a maid that has promoted herself via extra duties to a position above her station in life.   Kamame and his father in law have a cordial relationship.   The husband does find the father in law intimidating and cannot relate to the highly refined interests of the very cultivated older man.   He is a bit bored by him.   The father in law is very much "old school".   He scorns what he sees as the decadent Hollywood movies that his daughter loves and the romance novels she reads.   He is totally into Bunraku, a form of traditional puppet theater founded in Osaka in the late 17th century.    Puppet theater goes much further back than that in Japan.   Great care is lavished on the costumes of the puppets.   There are 100s of plays.  The father in law loves to talk about the smallest details in the plays, being especially interested in the costumes worn by the dolls.   He and his son in law go to a festival where many plays will be put on over a three day period.   The father in law is not really judgmental when his son in law tells him of the divorce that may be coming.   He feels the problem is caused by western corruption bringing people to false expectations about marriages.


Unlike Quicksand, characters in this work are basically sympathetic.   There are no real villains.  It is a lot of fun to see what happens in the marriage and how everyone deals with events in their own way.  I do not want to give away any more plot details as it is terribly clever. 

There is an amazing two page description of a minor character, a fifty year old Canadian woman who owns and operates a number of brothels, that is an amazing literary jewel.

In Some Prefer Nettles  we see a classic Reading Life type in the father in law, a man who has sort of cultivated himself into a isolated corner.   His inner life has been totally enriched by things those around him do not fathom and frankly find a total bore.   I did not at all see the ending of this book coming.  Tanizaki sort of plots his books so you have to continually rethink what is happening.  

As I was writing this post in my mind I began to imagine Tanizaki reading one of Henry James 1000 word descriptions of the inner life of a character and saying "Not bad Henry, but here is what you missed and by the way I edited out 800 words for you".   I see him telling Flaubert "Sorry Gustav but the women in your books are really dullards".   I see him telling Joyce, "I could put hidden references to things nobody will understand in my books to prove how smart I am but I do not feel the need".   I imagine him telling D H Lawrence that he can create more erotic power with veiled suggestion than Lawrence  could with all the banned words that can be found.  This does not mean he would be right to say these things but the thought was there for me.

 I endorse this book without reservations.   It is not simply an historical curiosity.   All of the characters are perfect.   There are no trite plot lines.   The ending befuddled me and may do the same to others.   As a side benefit we learn a lot about Japanese life in the 1920s.


Mel u

16 comments:

nihon distractions said...

A great review!,all great reviews!.My interest in Taisho era books is growing...

Paperback Reader said...

I read and reviewed this in May and I found it a little dry and the ending disappointing. The passivity of Kaname and Misako also irritated me. The prose is beautiful, however.

JoAnn said...

Sounds like I should read this before Quicksand. Love the imagined conversations between Tanizaki and James, Flaubert, Joyce, and Lawrence!

mel u said...

Nihon distractions-thanks for visiting my blog-I confess my knowledge of Japanese Literture is so limited that I had to google "Taisho"-I have not yet read a novel from that era -

Paperback reader-thanks as always for your insightful comments-I found the ending to be unexpected-maybe I am off in this but I quite enjoyed the descriptions of the Puppet theater-I found the passivity of the characters to be logical in the context-based on my limited reading of Tanizaki's work I would start with The Secret History of the Lord of Musashi and Arrowroot (both published in the same book by Vintage-thanks for your very interesting post-maybe it is a triffle dry-

Joann-I think I would start with "The Secret History of Lord Musashi" and "Arrowroot"-both in the same book-

ds said...

Wonderful review, Mel!I laughed out loud at Tanizaki's imagined advice (spot-on, too) and love your description of the father-in-law in this novel as having "cultivated himself into an isolated corner." I will have to find this book. Thank you!

Suko said...

Tanizaki must be some writer!

Mel, I think you could spend a year (or more) solely reviewing Japanese literature on The Reading Life. But I'm having a hard time because as I've mentioned before, every time I read your perceptive reviews, I end up with an even longer TBR list. Rebecca was right!

Peter S. said...

Hi, Mel! I'll be reading this one next year, since I'm taking a break from reading contemporary novels. So far, it's been a great reading experience going through the classics.

mel u said...

ds-thanks-I admit I enjoyed dreaming up the imagined advise

Suko-I am actually thinking of doing something like that just that in 2010-I still want to pursue the theme of my blog so will be thinking on it-

mel u said...

Peter-good to hear you are enjoying the classics-

claire said...

Sounds wonderful! I plan on reading this sometime soon. I've read The Makioka Sisters before and really loved it.

Rise said...

You summarized it well. And agree with your comment that "Tanizaki sort of plots his books so you have to continually rethink what is happening." This really makes this novel unpredictable right to the end.

Anonymous said...

ルイビトン|ヴィトン 財布|ヴィトン バッグ|ヴィトンモノグラム
http://www.lvbagshopping.net/ ヴィトン 財布[
http://www.lovelvshop.com/ ヴィトンモノグラム
http://www.lvmany.com/ ヴィトン 財布
ルイビトン|ヴィトン 財布|ヴィトン バッグ|ヴィトンモノグラム
[url=http://www.lvbagshopping.net/]ヴィトン バッグ[/url]
[url=http://www.lovelvshop.com/]ヴィトンモノグラム[/url]
[url=http://www.lvmany.com/]ヴィトン バッグ[/url]
ヴィトン 財布[
ヴィトン バッグ
ルイビトン
ルイビトン|ヴィトン 財布|ヴィトン バッグ|ヴィトンモノグラム

Anonymous said...

ルイビトン|ヴィトン 財布|ヴィトン バッグ|ヴィトンモノグラム
http://www.lvbagshopping.net/ ヴィトン 財布[
http://www.lovelvshop.com/ ヴィトンモノグラム
http://www.lvmany.com/ ルイビトン
ルイビトン|ヴィトン 財布|ヴィトン バッグ|ヴィトンモノグラム
[url=http://www.lvbagshopping.net/]ヴィトン 財布[[/url]
[url=http://www.lovelvshop.com/]ヴィトン バッグ[/url]
[url=http://www.lvmany.com/]ヴィトン バッグ[/url]
ヴィトン バッグ
ヴィトン 財布
ヴィトン 財布
ルイビトン|ヴィトン 財布|ヴィトン バッグ|ヴィトンモノグラム

Anonymous said...

ルイビトン|ヴィトン 財布|ヴィトン バッグ|ヴィトンモノグラム
http://www.lvbagshopping.net/ ヴィトン モノグラム
http://www.lovelvshop.com/ ヴィトンモノグラム
http://www.lvmany.com/ ヴィトン バッグ
ルイビトン|ヴィトン 財布|ヴィトン バッグ|ヴィトンモノグラム
[url=http://www.lvbagshopping.net/]ヴィトン バッグ[/url]
[url=http://www.lovelvshop.com/]ヴィトン 財布[/url]
[url=http://www.lvmany.com/]ルイビトン[/url]
ヴィトン モノグラム
ヴィトン バッグ
ヴィトン 財布
ルイビトン|ヴィトン 財布|ヴィトン バッグ|ヴィトンモノグラム

Anonymous said...

ルイビトン|ヴィトン 財布|ヴィトン バッグ|ヴィトンモノグラム
http://www.lvbagshopping.net/ ヴィトン 財布[
http://www.lovelvshop.com/ ヴィトン 財布
http://www.lvmany.com/ ヴィトン バッグ
ルイビトン|ヴィトン 財布|ヴィトン バッグ|ヴィトンモノグラム
[url=http://www.lvbagshopping.net/]ヴィトン 財布[[/url]
[url=http://www.lovelvshop.com/]ヴィトン バッグ[/url]
[url=http://www.lvmany.com/]ヴィトン 財布[/url]
ヴィトン バッグ
ヴィトンモノグラム
ヴィトン 財布
ルイビトン|ヴィトン 財布|ヴィトン バッグ|ヴィトンモノグラム

Anonymous said...

ルイビトン|ヴィトン 財布|ヴィトン バッグ|ヴィトンモノグラム
http://www.lvbagshopping.net/ ヴィトン 財布[
http://www.lovelvshop.com/ ヴィトン バッグ
http://www.lvmany.com/ ヴィトンモノグラム
ルイビトン|ヴィトン 財布|ヴィトン バッグ|ヴィトンモノグラム
[url=http://www.lvbagshopping.net/]ヴィトン モノグラム[/url]
[url=http://www.lovelvshop.com/]ヴィトン 財布[/url]
[url=http://www.lvmany.com/]ヴィトン 財布[/url]
ヴィトン 財布[
ヴィトン 財布
ヴィトン 財布
ルイビトン|ヴィトン 財布|ヴィトン バッグ|ヴィトンモノグラム