“I want to believe that I was at fault, rather than the book and its author” – The Silent Cry by Kenzaburō Ōe

kotscImagine I’m describing the plot of a film. It starts with a man hiding in a pit because a friend of his has killed himself by painting himself red, sticking a cucumber up his bum, and hanging himself from the rafters. The man in the pit then reconnects with his brother and they go back to their hometown to sell their childhood land to the owner of a supermarket. There, they encounter an old neighbour of theirs. For reasons that never really seem apparent to the story, she is now the fattest woman in Japan so they give her six boxes of noodles. The pit man’s brother then tries to start an uprising (against who?) by starting a football team. It kind of works but kind of doesn’t, so he seduces the pit man’s wife. He then pretends that he’s raped someone who died in an accident by smashing her face in with a rock. Then he dies. After admitting that he once had an incestuous relationship with his mentally ill sister. Then the pit man’s wife has the pit man’s brother’s baby and the pit man and his wife life happily ever after. Oh, and there’s a hermit than lives in the woods or something.

What would you think of that? Would you see it? Maybe out of morbid curiousity and a desire to see if it was a drama, horror, or comedy I suppose. It probably wouldn’t make a great deal of difference if I told you that this was a book and not a film. But if I told you that this book was written by Kenzaburō Ōe, a former winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, would that pique your interest? If I then told you that quotes on the cover called it a masterpiece, and the most important Japanese book of the last fifty years, would you pretty much be making your way to your local bookshop/internet browser to pick up a copy?

Those things certainly convinced me to read it. And if I’m being completely honest, it wasn’t as bad as I’ve made it sound with that madcap attempt and putting the plot into a paragraph. But then it wasn’t as good as the like of Kazuo Ishiguro made it sound on the cover, either. There were moments of magic, for sure. And some of the individual sections, such as the tale of the incestuous relationship or the introduction of Japan’s fattest woman, were wonderfully written and very involving. But for me, I failed to see how it all fit together. We go from one disturbing and weird incident to another with little to connect them and with no sense of why some of them are there in the first place. I mean, why the red paint and the cucumber? Maybe I’ll never know.

Any Cop?: I can’t help but feel that I was missing some sort of context here. I want to believe that I was at fault, rather than the book and its author. Because at times it’s great. And he is obviously a much loved and very well respected writer. So I’m not going to say that it wasn’t any cop. I’m going to say that I was completely baffled and a little bit bored by it, but you’d probably be better off trusting Ishiguro and the Nobel Prize for Literature panel.


Fran Slater












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