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  1. This book is sublime. That much is clear but how much of it is fiction and how much is simply Dazai's final thoughts on the world (he committed suicide after this book was completed) is hard to tell. Actually, that's not true. At no point did I ever feel I was reading about the fictional Yozo. I always felt that I was reading Dazai's thoughts. And yet fact and fiction are sometimes the same thing. The book is presented to us as an epistolary novel. A series of notebooks that have been found and explore the mind of a character called Yozo. As a boy he quickly fails to grasp human beings and learns that he must pretend to be one of them to fit in. He smiles when he knows your supposed to. He claims to be hungry when he isn't because he doesn't know what hunger feels like. He acts the clown because he knows it will make people laugh. Even when he is sexually abused by the servants he does not speak out because what would it accomplish? As an adult he begins a series of affairs but never once truly connects or feels any meaningful emotion towards these women. And yet he pretends (even to himself) that he does feel something. Soon, he and his latest companion make a suicide pact but where she succeeds, Yozo fails. He now has to live with those circumstances and yet, as before, thinks only of himself. Her death is no more important to him that his next drink. His final relationship is with a woman named Yoshiko and includes a curious (and very confusing) moment. She is essentially raped (a thing Yozo witnesses) but Yozo describes this in such a vague manner that it's hard to know if she was simply having consensual sex or being raped. It is written as though it is the latter and yet when Yozo witnesses it, he walks away as though he is the victim. It's quite an unnerving moment in the book and I'm not sure if it's a deliberate blurring of issues or simply a cultural aspect to Japanese morality. Then again, perhaps it was a call back to his own experience of sexual assault. It certainly left me with a strange feeling in my bones. Like a lot of the book in fact. Soon after, another suicide is attempted and his alcoholism is replaced by a methadone addiction. It's only a matter of time before his family commit him to an asylum. It is here that he discovers that his father has died. Three years later, he is living alone in an old house with an elderly female servant. He requests some sleeping pills and takes ten of them only to discover that the servant actually gave him laxatives. And thus, he finishes the book pathetic... failed... alone... and shitting himself. The book ends with someone finding his notebook and querying what happened to the protagonist. But to this we never have an answer. The book is a staggering work of genius. And I would recommend it to everyone. It is painfully sad and yet (for me, at least) has so many excruciatingly relevant moments that I could relate to. Things which are hard to put into words but which Dazai very brilliantly succeeds in achieving. It strongly triggered memories of reading Camus' The Stranger in the sense that the main character does not... cannot... function as a proper human being. I would say that this book was actually a better exploration of that same theme: How does one know if they're human? 9/10
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