Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Friday, October 30, 2009

"Quicksand" by Junichiro Tanizaki

Quicksand by Junichiro Tanizaki (translated from Japanese by Howard Hibbert in 1993, first published 1928)

Forget the leading ladies in "Melrose Place", "Desperate Housewives", or the female villains in the latest Korean soap opera.   None of them are half as devious, manipulative, seductive, or beautiful as Mitsuko in Quicksand.   (It should be noted that those  are Mitsuko's good qualities.)

Sonoko and Mitsuko meet at an art class.   Mitsuko is posing,  covered only in a sheet , as the Kannon Bodhisattva for the class.   Sonoko cannot help but notice what a beautiful delicate face Mitsuko has as well as her flawless body.   The two women get to know each other over the course of a few weeks in class and begin to spend some time together.    One day Sonoko asks Mitsuko to come back to her house and pose nude for her so she can complete her drawing of her as the Kannon Bodhisattva.
We begin to wonder now who is the deceiver and who the deceived, of course someone can be both.  A rumor begins to go around the school that the women are lovers.   At first both women are shocked.  Then they become lovers.   They begin to deceive Sonoko's seemingly naive husband, who owes his status in life to the parents of his wife, something she likes to throw in his face every once and a while.   Unaccepted turns of events are everywhere, manipulations within ploys with schemes at every turn.  There are no explicit scenes in Quicksand  but there is more erotic power felt than in D H Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover, also first published in 1928.  

One day Sonoko learns under shocking circumstances that Mitsuko has a male lover also and might be pregnant.   Things begin to get really strange now.   A triangle of sorts develops between the man and the two women.   Then another triangle develops between the husband and the two women.   Then the husband and the man meet.   I was not able to see what was going to happen next and I think most readers feel the same way.   The plot is in no way cliched.   The characters are whole people, especially the women who are brilliantly realized.  

We get a good look at day to day life among financially comfortable (but not really rich) people in Japan in the 1920s.   We get a very good look a marriage in decline.   Quicksand does a great job with some family fight scenes.    We learn some things in passing.   We go alone when Mitsuko, who may or may not be pregnant, goes for a prenatal examination and we find out about a women's right to choose in prewar Japan.   I do not want to give away any more of the plot lines as the twists and turns are just so clever and so much fun.   The ending will make you rethink the whole book and wonder if maybe you got everything wrong as you were reading Quicksand.  

I really liked this book.   It is perfectly plotted and paced.   All of the characters, even the minor ones like Mitsuko's maid Una, are completely credible.   We see the dynamics of power in relationships.   We feel the beauty and erotic power of Mitsuko.

I have now created a new subcategory for my To Be Read List.  I call it my "read all they have written list".  Junichiro Tanizaki is now on this list along with Kenzaburo Oe.  I have already posted on his   Arrowroot and The Secret History of the Lord of Musashi.   It appears he has 12 works in print in English by Vintage Press.  I plan to read all of them. 

I endorse this book without reservation.
Mel u


Suko said...

Wow! Wonderful review! I devoured every word. Quicksand sounds fascinating!

mee said...

Sounds really good! I read The Key by Tanizaki before and thought it was great! (so thin as well :) I've been wanting to read more Tanizaki and thinking Naomi, but now I think Quicksand would be my next Tanizaki.

JoAnn said...

You've introduced me to another author, Mel! I'm off to check my library website...