Daniel Williams

‘The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With the Sea’ (1963) Yukio Mishima

In Book Review, Japanese, Literature, Review, Writing on 27/08/2011 at 12:36

The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With the Sea (1963) is an odd book. It starts off with a 13 year-old boy spying on his mother undressing and it only gets stranger from there. The boy’s mother, Fusako, begins an affair with a sailor on shore leave. The sailor, Ryuji, has a love-hate relationship with the sea and dreams of a glorious destiny. The 13 year-old boy hangs around with a group of teenagers who call each other by numbers and believe they are geniuses in an overly sentimental world. This doesn’t sound too bad, but as the story progress the boy continues spying on his mother and the sailor, and his group of friends begin to put their theory that they are above others and are permitted to do anything into practice. Half way through the novel you can guess how it will all turn out, but, like a Greek tragedy, waiting for the moment of violence is part of the perverse pleasure of reading The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With the Sea. The ending of The Sailor Who… is a grim one, but anticipating the expected outcome had my heart racing while reading the last chapter.

The book is quite poetic in places. Unsurprisingly the imagery of the sea, ships and sailing occur throughout, but it never feels forced. In one moment a character wishes to have a hard heart like an anchor. That really worked for me.

Yukio Mishima covers some of the same philosophical ground as Fyodor Dostoyevsky in the group of boys who believe they are above others. But whereas Dostoyevsky’s characters have religion and his novels often end with redemption through suffering, Mishima’s only redemption seems to be through death. Maybe my judgement is clouded by the knowledge that Yukio Mishima ended his own life. There is a moment in the book when one character looks down on another for having failed a suicide attempt.

The Sailor Who… is a dark, violent and strange story, but none the less its made me curious about the author’s other works.

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  1. Strange all right! But your review makes me want to read this author’s work… Dostoyevsky – I like very much….

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