I am becoming increasingly convinced that one of the defining characteristics of the Japanese novel is an assumption that the audience for the novels will be familiar with the conventions of various types of Japanese theater. One of the first Japanese novels I read was Yukio Mishima's The Sailor Who Fell From Grace with the Sea. If you merely look at this as a purely European novel the plot line is cliched and the characters are not fully developed. When I stepped back and came to see this as a novel that assumes the ritualized and representational features of classical Japanese theater I was able to see the brilliance in the work. This knowledge is not something arcane that only professors would understand , it is (or maybe better said now was) part of the common culture of the Japanese novel reader.
Yukio Mishima (1925 to 1970) is on all lists of the best five Japanese novelists. One of the themes of his work is the destruction of traditional Japanese culture through the defeat in WWII and the subsequent total adoption of the values of consumerism by most Japanese. Mishima felt deeply enough about his views to commit ritual suicide in support of them.
Runaway Horses is the second work in Mishima's tetralogy, The Sea of Fertility. The Sea of Fertility is unified by having a common lead character in each of the four works, Shigekuni Honda. When Honda is first introduced he is a law student and at the end he is a distinguished retired judge. In each novel the plot action centers on a young man that Honda believe to be the reincarnation of a school friend of his.
Not long ago I was browsing in Fully Booked, a book store with branches all over Manila. I was happy to see they had a lot of books by Yukio Mishima, one of the Japanese novelists I for sure want to get to know better. I guess i should have looked more carefully at the book before I bought book two in The Sea of Fertility before book one. I set the book to the side thinking I will go back and buy book one, Spring Snow. As luck would have it, book one is not available anywhere in Manila I can find. I am running very low on unread Japanese novels on my shelves so after researching the over all plot of the tetralogy I decided to read it out of order though I will not post much on it until I read the first part at least. I am planning for sure to read all of it this year, if possible.
I am noticing a common theme in the works of Mishima. In his works young idealistic men in their teens or early twenties rebel, often violently, against what they see as corrupt older men who have obtained power through a betrayal of the ideals they espouse but no longer embody. He also uses this as a way of showing the general falling away of Japanese society from its core values through an over attachment to the material values of the west. (This is a common theme in the post war Japanese novel.) This is exactly what happens in Runaway Horses. I liked Runaway Horses a lot. The story takes place in 1932 and 1933 and involves a plot against the government, though not against the Emperor, by a group of young men. The planning of the plot is told in a very exciting way. There is a lot to be learned about pre-WWII Japanese society from this book.
I would really suggest that one read the first part of this tetralogy before the second and I will do a longer post once I have read part one, Spring Snow .