Well, I haven't read Tanizaki before. I know he is considered one of the best Japanese writers in the 20th century. Having decided to read him, I picked up two of his book last time from 'Strand' and started with the shorter one, the other being Makioka sisters. On a general glance around the world of readers, I found out this book was considered a master piece by many and in general the enthusiasm was very high. That set the bar high on expectations and in the end, I must admit, I ended up a bit disappointed. Considering the time it was written( in the late 20s), and the theme that could have shocked the conservative society, this could have significance in the modern Japanese Literature. However, reading this now, 85 years after its original publication, it did not stir any excitement in me.
Sonoko Kakiuchi, 23 yrs old, married to Kotaro, a law practitioner is enrolled in an art school, to continue her love for art and more importantly to escape the boredom at home. The husband and wife leave home together and return back home together in what seems to be a perfect life. However, a malignant rumour that spread across the school, connecting Sonoko to another student Mitsuko, changes the whole scene. The whole thing seems to be the handy work of the School Pricipal, who commented on one of the pictures of Sonoko, that it resembles Mitsuko. It did not take long for the two accused to join, and form into a friendship, somewhat challenging the rumour mongers. The friendship soon changed into mutual attraction and Mitsuko started spending long hours at Sonoko's bedroom, posing nude for her friend for the picture that take eternity to complete. The act of seduction and manipulation begin with a new entrant to the scene in the form of a lover Watanuki. In some clever manipulation, Watanuki get Sonoko to sign a 'blood-pact' of friendship and brother-sister relation complicating the affair after Watanuki starts his black-mail. Getting into it to the affair to bring normalcy, Sonoko's husband Kotoro gets dragged into the "quicksand". Now the control is in the hand of Mitsuko, who until now cleverly manipulated the events, gets the upper hand over the husband and wife, controlling every movement and event sin their life. In the end, the trio form a suicide pact, killing themselves with poisonous sleeping powder. increasing the dose day after day. In the end, it was Sonoko who survive, narrating the story to the unnamed writer.
A typical story of seduction and betrayal, with more twists and turns with the readers suspicion pointing towards various characters as the manipulator. The protagonist, caught in the labrynth of unholy sexual adventure with another woman, continue to be fooled by those around her. She goes through the typical anger, revenge, seduction, reconciliation routine and end up as the victim of her own stupidity. This is a tale which can give you enough dramatic and thrilling moments and no wonder there had been many adaptation into films.
The writing( and the translation) is very simple and largely told in the first person narrative of Sonoko, as told to the writer. Tanizaki handled the sensuality and seduction with prudently. The air of carnal desire between two women is in the air, which gradually pave way to possessiveness, aggression to cruel manipulation and retribution ( the best way of conclusion) is in the hand of a good writer. Cleverly plotted, one get all that you see in a cheap thriller camouflaged in sensuality and some good prose. However good the writing is and novel the subject is, it is still far too light and insignificant to merit the accolades I see the book received. I may be missing something, for what the rest of the readers are able to appreciate the book. I will read the Makioka Sisters soon and revisit this book again on a later date. I might, hopefully, change my impression on this book.
Quicksand ( 1928-30 )
Jun'ichirō Tanizaki ( translated from Japanese by Howard Hibbett in 1994)