Jun’ichiro Tanizaki: 白昼鬼語 (Devils in Daylight)

The latest addition to my website is Jun’ichiro Tanizaki‘s 白昼鬼語 (Devils in Daylight), the second of two Tanizaki novels to appear from New Directions later this month (April 2017). This is a fairly short and early novel. It has one of Tanizaki’s favourite themes – the femme fatale. The Tanizaki alter ego, Takasashi, the narrator, tells of his somewhat unbalanced, rich and single friend Sonomura who gets wind of a murder to take place and wants Takasashi to accompany him to witness but not intervene in the murder. Takasashi reluctantly does so and, after one failed attempt to find the house where the murder takes place, they do seem to manage to find the house. They are able to hide and watch what seem to be foul deeds being committed by a man and a woman. Takasashi is even more concerned when he finds his friend having Eiko, the woman, in his house and then, later the man. Sonomura is clearly sexually attracted to Eiko, not only because she is a very good-looking woman but because her sexual attraction is enhanced by her involvement in dangerous deeds. Tanizaki tells a good story, with the inevitable unexpected twist.

Shinobu Orikuchi: 死者の書 (The Book of the Dead)

The latest addition to my website is Shinobu Orikuchi‘s 死者の書 (The Book of the Dead), a wonderful Japanese ghost story, set in the eight century. The story starts with a dead man in his tomb, who is just waking up. All he can remember is the sight of the beautiful Mimimo no Toni, whom he had never seen before but fell in love with at the moment of his death. (He was a member of the royal family and been executed, following a political intrigue some fifty years previously.). He appears as a giant ghost over Mount Futakami, and is seen by the maiden from the Southern Branch of the Fujiwara Clan (based on the historicalChūjō-hime, daughter of the powerful Fujiwara no Toyonari). She abandons her home in Nara and walks to where she has seen him and enters a nearby temple, therefore defiling it, as women cannot enter. He continues to appear to her, perhaps mistaking her for Mimimo no Toni, whose great-great-niece she is. The story follows his appearances and the dilemma faced by the monks and the powers in Nara, about what to do with her as well as how the maiden reacts. It is a superb novel, a classic of Japanese literature, which deserves to be far better known in the English-speaking world.

Jun’ichiro Tanizaki: 台所太平記 (The Maids)

The latest addition to my website is Jun’ichiro Tanizaki‘s 台所太平記 (The Maids). This was the last novel he wrote and is something of a counterpoint to 細雪 (The Makioka Sisters). The latter tells the story of the owners, while this novel tells the stories of the maids. Though the maids are not the maids of the Makioka sisters, Tanizaki used his own life as inspiration for both novels. Indeed, Raikichi, the employer of these maids, was clearly based on Tanizaki himself. Tanizaki is always a good storyteller and his stories of a series of maids bring out their individual,characteristics and quirks. The book also shows the changing mores of Japan over the period of the novel (1935-1962), as Raikichi moves away from a strict hierarchical treatment of the maids to becoming closer to their children than to his own grandchildren. While obviously not of the quality of 細雪 (The Makioka Sisters), it is still a fascinating cap to a fine career as a writer.