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

Saturday, January 7, 2012

The Changeling by Kenzaburo Oe

The Changeling by Kenzaburo Oe  (2010, 479 pages,  2826 KB, translated by Deborah Boehm)

My Prior Posts on Kenzaburo Oe

The Changeling is Kenzaburo Oe's most recent work.     Oe (1935, Japan) won the Nobel Prize in 1994.   This is the 16th work my Oe I have read and posted on since I began my blog in July, 2009.   I feel a bit sad as I think I have now read all of his translated works.     Obviously I hold Oe's work in the highest esteem and greatly enjoy it.   In Norwegian Wood there is a scene where the central male character is talking about a book store a family member owns.   He says it is just a place to buy simple books that ordinary people can read, not Tolstoy or Kenzaburo Oe.    Oe has said that The Changeling is his last book.   (It is my understanding there are several untranslated as of yet works of fiction which may come out in English one day.)

As I started to read The Changeling  I hoped so much I would find it to me a great work worthy to perhaps be the final work of a great writer.  I thought what will I do if instead it is a major disappointment like 1Q84 was?    I do not think I could bring myself to saying anything negative about a writer I love as much as Oe and I am glad to say that The Changeling is a great masterwork.   It deals with many of the same themes as his other works and like many of them is based on his own life experiences.    

Oe's brother-in-law was a very successful film director.  In 1997 he committed suicide through jumping out of a window.   The book is about the narrator's attempt to come to terms with the death of a close friend of his, a very well known movie, director, by suicide.  The friend has left behind a series of audio tapes for the narrator, called Kogito.   Kogito is a world famous author with a son with a birth defect limiting his mental capacities who nevertheless become a composer, just like Oe.   Kogito becomes obsessed with trying to understand why his brother-in-law, the proverbial man with everything, decided to end his own life.  The book is essentially a series of reactions to the tapes.   Oe is as deep a writer as one will find and the book reflects this in the thoughts of the narrator.  

As I read this work there was something that did make me wonder a bit about why it was in the book.   Just as some people were put off a bit by 1Q84's inclusion of extensive descriptions of the body of a 17 year old female and descriptions of sex with her by a much older man there is a section of very graphic  very erotic explicit descriptions of the movie director, in his late 50s, having a limited sexual encounter with a 17 year old girl.   Some things are subject to cultural relativism and the age of consent in Japan is lower than in the USA or the Philippines so perhaps this is socially acceptable behavior but to me it made the movie director seem, foolish, predatory, perverted, and a bit evil.   No reflections like this are made by the narrator who, if he reflects Oe's age, is in his 70s.   Are beautiful young girls just another perk of being a movie director, am I overreacting because I have three teenage daughters or is there another meaning to all this?   Or does sex simply sell  books?   I will say it is better done than the sex in 1Q84.

I do not recommend this as a first Oe.  For those into his work, I for sure endorse it.   I actually would suggest that all of his work be read in order written.    To me there is no bad Oe!

Mel u


EstherHawdon said...

A great review! As I used to be an ardent fan of Oe, I even went to listen to his lectures. Then I found several interesting things about the relationship between Oe and Itami (as you know, the film director in the novel is based on Juzo Itami) Itami was Oe's classmate in their high school days. Itami has several attractive things Oe doesn't - good-looking, something of a genius, witty humor etc...I guess Oe has ambivalent feelings towards Itami - admiration, envy and even malice (?) Just before Oe and Itami's sister got married, Itami strongly opposed their marriage ( so I heard) Perhaps Itami has the similar feelings towards Oe? However Itami filmed Oe's work "The Quiet Life" and their relationship sometimes seemed good. When I read this novel, I couldn't help thinking of their complicated relationship and a close bond. (It's hard to stop when I start writing about them) I want to reread this novel as I'm inspired by your review. Thank you!

Bellezza said...

Sadly, I just could not get into this book. I checked it out from the library when it was first released and abandoned it after the first fifty pages or so. Maybe I should try it again after your wonderful review.

@parridhlantern said...

Saw this recently & have placed it on my wishlist, although I've only read 2 Oe's I thought this would probably be the next.

Rise said...

After J and 17, I haven't made any other "breakthrough" with Oe. I think I have to address that.

JoV said...

I can't help to think the character was perverted and evil. especially the part of opening up a tortoise for food. I'm writing this and couldn't quite remember what the book was all about, I will have to go back and recall the details of it.

Mel u said...

EstherHawdon-thanks so much for sharing your knowledge and experience with Oe with us-your comment and visit is very much appreciated

Bellezza-sorry you could not get into this work

Parish Lantern-I hope you enjoy this work

Risa-J and 17 are kind of atypical Oe but very interesting works

JoV-so glad you made this comment-the scene where he worked so hard to kill the turtle bothered me also-not sure how it is to be understood