Sunday, June 17, 2007

Yukio Mishima - 'Confessions of a Mask'

This has a remarkable cover:

Confessions of a Mask front cover

There is no way I'd have bought it if it hadn't been by Yukio Mishima and 30p. Talk about over-literal ham fisted imagery. The date? 1972, 1977 or 1985, are the publication and reprint years, take your pick. I'm going to guess 1985. If the front weren't bad enough, check out the back:

Confesstions of a Mask back cover

Now, whilst it would admittedly be tricky to write blurb about Mishima without mentioning the impressive suicide, here it's too prominent, surely? People don't read him because of the way he died, do they? And yet, having read it, the cover has begun to seem fitting. The man hanging there impassive to the swords, maybe even asleep. It isn't quite true that the book 'takes us deep into the fascinating and terrible world of the sado-masochistic homosexual': there is no sex of that nature here, nor much of any other nature. Nor is there very much focus on homosexuality, beyond a brief infatuation for Omi, an alpha male at school, and references to the narrator's 'bad habit' (frequent masturbation). Increasingly as the book continues, it becomes the elephant in the room as he tries to convince himself that he loves Sonoko - indeed, he does seem to love her, just not in a sexual way.

As I travelled toward N Village, along with every jolt of the train came the torment of a childish and pathetic obsession: I was determined that I would not leave without kissing Sonoko. My determination, however, was different from that feeling filled with pride which comes when a person struggles to achieve his desire in spite of timidity: I felt as though I were going thieving. I felt like a fainthearted apprentice in crime who was being coerced into becoming a thief by the leader of his gang. My conscience was pricked by the happiness of being loved. Or perhaps I was craving some still more decisive unhappiness. (p. 157)
This self-analysis is quite typical in its dryness and perspicacity, and is reminiscent of Proust (who gets name-checked, being described as a sodomite, as though this were his chief point of interest) in the way it shifts around: it is only certain that there is a strong emotion, and what the emotion is is open to endless interpretation.

The story is set before, during and after the Second World War, and in it the narrator can see a glorious death solving all sorts of awkward problems. From Mishima, this comes as no surprise at all, one only has to think of Isao from Runaway Horses. The character from The Sea of Fertility the narrator most resembles, though, is Toru from The Decay of the Angel. At least in the early stages of the book, he openly uses people and manipulates them, he is totally alone and he likes it that way. When the prospect of an early death fades, he mellows, becoming far more likeable. This I did find unexpected, but it was completely believable. The intensity of youth dissipates and death no longer seems glorious: he manages a kind of friendship with Sonoko, and as the book ends he finds himself attracted to some muscular young men with no shirts on at a table outside a dancing club. A happy ending, no less.

1 comment:

Mario said...

do yah have an inkling as to where i could find a copy of this book with this cover on it?

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