The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea by Yukio Mishima

King Penguin, 1987, 141 p. Translated from the Japanese 午後の曳航 (Gogo no Eikō) byJohn Nathan.

 The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea cover

Mishima, seemingly at the height of his literary powers and success, cut short his own life by committing seppuku in 1970, apparently in protest at the erosion of Japan’s values due to Western influence.

In this short novel, the first of his I have read, Fusako Kuroda has been widowed for five years. Unknown to her, her son Noboru has discovered a hole in the wainscotting between their bedrooms through which he can witness her bedtime routines. After a visit with Noboru to a tramp merchant steamer she takes up with the sailor, Ryuji Tzukazaki, who was attentive to Noboru but who it is revealed considers sex as a secret yearning for death. Their relationship is then consummated under the eyes of a not best pleased Noboru. Noboru is also number three in a group of schoolboys who enact nefarious rituals in their secret den. Boys have always tended to the wanton; as Shakespeare well knew.

Here is set the scene for an odd tale of love, alienation, dehumanisation and revenge. Things come to a head when after a final voyage away Ryuji decides to give up sailing and marry Fusako. Noboru presents his list of charges against Ryuji to his gang’s chief.

The tension between Japan’s past and present, which Mishima felt all too keenly, is reflected in the different attitudes of the characters. Fusako, with her job in a luxury goods shop, represents modernity, Ryuji a connection to Japan’s former seafaring glories, the boys a reminder of the insular past.

Pedant’s corner:- louvered swinging doors (louvred,) an unneeded indent of one space at one new line with a larger line spacing than usual below it.

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