Sunday, December 01, 2013

Thirst for Love - Yukio Mishima

The last three Japanese books I've been reading ( in the past 2 months) were all about obsessive love, revenge born out of love. Tanizaki's Quicksand, Kawabata's 'beauty and sadness' and now this one from Mishima. Amongst the three, I should say this was better than the rest.  What is admirable in all three is the way sensuality and a subject as this can be treated without being vulgar and in a rather simple effective narrative. However, these are not necessary the pick from their treasure of literary works. Thirst of Love is about the love affair of a young widow from a wealthy family with a young naive gardener which turns ugly after he fails to reciprocate and take catastrophic turn.

Etsuko's unhappy married life comes to an end after her husband dies fighting a long battle with typhoid. The marriage, already under strain for his relationship with other women, and his disinterest in Etsuko. However, like a faithful wife, she spent the last days of her husband with him in the hospital. She was moved in with her father-in-law post her widowhood, enduring the old man's sexual advances. On the other side, her infatuations with Saburo, the gardener wasn't physical, largely limited to buying him gifts and watching him from close quarters.  However, Saburo, is attracted with the maid Miyo, whom he manages to impregnate with a child.  Etsuko, who manages to keep her romantic liaison hidden , now tortured with jealousy and anger, and plot her revenge trying to separate Saburo and Miyo and even eliminate Saburo, in the end.

A simple story of love and obsession, made into a little gem by Mishima with some fine piece of writing. The hospital scene, written in monologue ( diary entry) through the words of Etsuko, is breath taking. Mishima's ability to get under the skin of his characters, the build up of slow expose of the character, the hidden infatuation turning into the strong feeling of vengeance and act of thoughtlessness is fabulous. Saburo, on his part is always submissive and helpless under the advance of his lords. His reactions and responses, befitting someone of lower strata of the social standing. He controls his reaction, when Miyo was sent to her family. The rest of the extended family, while hearing the rumours about the affair, add it to their daily gossip ( which include the father-in-laws relationship to the daughter in law) but largely sympathetic to the widow.

What Mishma has done well is to transcend the ordinary story of sexual torment and jealousy into a delicate mental status of a lonely young widow, suffering from the failed love affair. From the numbness that enveloped her, from the unhappy marriage, the death of her husband, the submission to the sexual pleasures of the father in law, she find herself deeply engulfed in a strong feeling of passion and obsession. A relief, for which she was willing to to any extreme, ending in the catastrophe to every one around her. Interestingly, the narration follow the same mood of the lead character, starting slow and dull, but gathering pace in the same way, culminating in the action packed ending. The writing is fuild and lyrical and mesmerising at places. Apart from the temple festival sequence, not many references to the cultural and social life of Japanese, which we find in the novels of Kawabata.  Yukio Mishima is a master, and this novel, not necessarily his best, is another important work reflective of his style.
Thirst for Love  ( 1950)

Yukio Mishima ( translated from Japanese by Alfred H Marks 1969) 

Vintage Books

200 Pages

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