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The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With The Sea

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Rescued thread

 

Stewart 8th January 2006 07:56 PM

 

The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With The Sea

 

Yukio Mishima’s The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With The Sea is a short novel but, due to its tight plot, brevity is not an issue. Published in 1963, seven years before he committed ritual suicide, the novel explores motivation and the factors that can cause someone to abandon their passions and resume their life embracing the dreams of another.

 

Noboru Kuroda, a thirteen year old on the cusp of an adult world, is part of a savage gang whose members, despite their exemplary grades at school, have rebelled against the adult world they deem hypocritical. Under the tutelage of Noboru’s friend, also thirteen, they condition themselves against sentimental feelings – a goal they call ‘objectivity’ - by killing stray cats.

 

Ryuji Tsukazaki, a merchant seaman, has been granted two days’ shore leave and has spent the time romancing Noboru’s widowed mother, Fusako. Noboru likes the sailor at first, his commitment to the sea and all the manly stories he has to tell. But, as Ryuji falls for Fusako, Noboru feels betrayed by the man’s burgeoning romanticism and, with the help of his gang, feels that action should be taken against the man who has replaced his father.

 

The first thing I noticed while reading this novel was that the characters are rich with life and history. Noboru, at thirteen, has strong feelings for his mother that manifest through voyeuristic sessions at night when, peeking into her room through a spy-hole, he watches her undress, entertain, and sleep. Ryuji, the sailor, knows he has some purpose at sea and continues his life off the land in the hope that one day he will learn his place in life. And Fusako, five years widowed, displays certain strength as she runs her own business, mixes with a richer class of citizen, while trying to raise he son as best she can.

 

The way the characters develop from this introduction is fast yet believable – the book, in fact, is split into two sections, Summer and Winter, to show that enough time has passed to be plausible. Noboru’s respect for Ryuji wanes as he becomes the worst thing, based on his gang’s beliefs, a man can be in this world: a father. Ryuji’s abandonment of his life’s passion is, of course, the main thread of the novel and it is a tragic decision he makes to give up the destiny waiting for him at sea in order to embrace the world of Fusako and the new direction she has planned for him.

 

The best thing about this novel is the language. The translator, John Nathan, has done a wonderful job and not a page passes without hitting you with a warm wash of sea-spray. Metaphors and similes are drenched with watery goodness as they add to the novel’s appeal. The prose is warm during the Summer section but as the book turns to Winter the turns of phrase become icier and tend to sting more. The dialogue is nice and realistic and doesn’t smart of stereotypical Japanese honour; the way the characters interact completely plausible.

 

I hadn’t heard of Mishima until I picked up this novel and, given that he had three Nobel nominations in his lifetime, I will certainly look out for more of his work. His concise prose, realistic characters, and the way his voice carries the sea makes him a rare find. If books were shells, I would hope to hear Mishima in every one.

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Thanks Adrian for restoring so many threads. especially this one that I had forgotten about and wanted to add to my Wishlist.

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Thanks Adrian for restoring so many threads. especially this one that I had forgotten about and wanted to add to my Wishlist.

Don't thank me, thank Stewart. I noticed most of his (excellent) reviews had no replies, as if "we" never read the books he posted about. I reckon he's as least as good a reviewer as most of those in the English broadsheets, and a lot better than some.

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Don't thank me, thank Stewart. I noticed most of his (excellent) reviews had no replies, as if "we" never read the books he posted about. I reckon he's as least as good a reviewer as most of those in the English broadsheets, and a lot better than some.

 

I agree. I went to Amazon and added this book to my list and noticed that he has posted the same review there. So I checked out his other reviews and they are all of an excellent standard. Was horrified to see though that he has 347 items on his Wishlist!! Busy boy - I keep mine to a 20 item maximum.

 

Hope he returns soon - maybe we don't appreciate his reviews enough?

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Was horrified to see though that he [stewart] has 347 items on his Wishlist!! Busy boy - I keep mine to a 20 item maximum.

 

I've probably bought one or two of them. Some of them will be DVDs. But the majority will be Penguin Classics and Penguin Modern Classics, of which I have a rather nasty fetish.

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I've probably bought one or two of them. Some of them will be DVDs. But the majority will be Penguin Classics and Penguin Modern Classics, of which I have a rather nasty fetish.

 

Nasty indeed - but there are worse fetishes.

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This one has been on my TBR pile for a few months now, purchased on the back of this review. Maybe its time to give it a go.

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I'm not even going to try to add to Stewart's review, but this is a truly wondrous book. How Mishima (with added respect to the translator) fit so much into so few words is unbelievable. I do love such a spare writing style that manages to evoke so much feeling and nuance with so few words.

 

My imprint is the Vintage Books "Vintage East" imprint, and a very handsome design it is too. In the same series is Natsuo's Kirino's Out and Dai Sijie's Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress. I'm a big believer that the "decider" (the one who chooses which books go into such a series) is one of the most important people in the publishing world. I certainly trust them enough with The Sailor... to use them as a basis for my future Oriental reading.

 

I've just bought Spring Snow, the first book in his "cycle of four novels" known as The Sea of Fertility, that, when he'd finished, he killed himself. Just knowing that made me shiver when I picked the book up.

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This is the book that David Almond (author of Skellig, Clay and many other YA fiction) listed as one of his favourites - unfortunately, it was a little lost on the teenagers who were there to see him talk!

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I finished this slight but powerful book this afternoon. Mostly I enjoyed the tale of Ryuji - his consideration of the sea and being at sea. Noboru and his gang reminded me very much of Alex and his gang in A Clockwork Orange. The writing is very good and the descriptions of the sea and of the town by the sea were wonderful and really captured this notion of a sea town living by the clock of the sea traffic - as if in temporary suspension.

 

 

I loved the ending - I loved that we didn't get to be present at the fate of Ryuji, but that it was inevitable nonetheless. Very haunting image to leave the readers with.

 

 

I will be getting the first of Mishima's 'Sea of Fertility' tetraology as well.

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I recently read this book and thoroughly enjoyed it. Powerful stuff, the plot has stayed with me. I really don't think I can add anything to Stewart's excellent review other than to whole heartedly agree with him. I doubt anyone could describe the use of language (and of course the translation) any better Stewart! I sometimes worry, when reading books in translation whether or not the original feel of the plot will come through but, I am sure that in this case John Nathan has done a great job.

 

I couldn't recommend this book highly enough to other readers!

 

Originally posted by Flingo:This is the book that David Almond (author of Skellig, Clay and many other YA fiction) listed as one of his favourites

 

Funnily enough I just read a comment by Almond today about his love of this book in his introduction to the 'Ultimate Teen Book Guide' - wonder if I can get any kids onto it?

 

Re. the publishers - Vintage East:

Originally Posted by Adrian: I certainly trust them enough with The Sailor... to use them as a basis for my future Oriental reading.

 

I have also recently read their edition of 'Out' by Natsuo Kirino and was absolutely absolutely gripped by it, real powerful / shocking stuff. I shall post my thoughts on this sometime over the next few days. Have also got their edition of 'The Girl Who Played Go' by Shan Sa - can't wait!

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'Out' by Natsuo Kirino and was absolutely absolutely gripped by it, real powerful / shocking stuff. I shall post my thoughts on this sometime over the next few days. Have also got their edition of 'The Girl Who Played Go' by Shan Sa - can't wait!

 

Both added to wishlist - thanks LesleyMP. Thank the lord my birthday is coming up!

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Originally posted by Hazel: Both added to wishlist - thanks LesleyMP. Thank the lord my birthday is coming up!

 

I do hope you enjoy reading 'Out' Hazel, it is a crime / thriller novel - not a genre I am particularly familiar with and after reading this I am a little worried that other such books might not live up to it! I'll try to post something about it this weekend.

 

Could anyone recommend a second Mishima title to read? I can't make up my mind which one to try next.

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Could anyone recommend a second Mishima title to read? I can't make up my mind which one to try next.

 

Looks like most of us have decided on the first in his Sea of Fertility tetraology, Spring Snow. Well, I know me and Adrian have plans to buy it!

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I've already bought Spring Snow, though I don't want to read it so soon after The Sailor...

 

I've tentatively borrowed Confessions of a Mask from the library, described as his "most autobiographical" novel ("tentatively" as I don't think I'll get chance to read it before it has to go back).

 

And now I'll have to go and buy Out!

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I read this this weekend and enjoyed it, but I didn't think it was amazing. The gang of boys was very worrying and I very nearly put it down when I got to the kitten scene (I abandoned Out because of the violence). I'm glad I read on.

 

This was very different from his 'The Sound of the Waves' a romance, which I read earlier in the year

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