Review – Some Prefer Nettles March 11, 2012Posted by thehypermonkey in 3 stars, Foreign, Literature.
Tags: "book review", "book reviews", books, japan, japanese fiction, junichiro tanizaki, literature, reading, some prefer nettles
by Junichrio Tanizaki
The conflict between traditional and modern Japanese culture is at the heart of this novel. Kaname is a smug, modern man living in a modern marriage. He gamely allows his wife to become the lover of another man, an act that does not cure the profound sadness at the heart of their relationship. So Kaname gradually retreats into the protection of traditional rituals, attitudes and tastes, eventually making love to Ohisa, his father-in-law’s old-fashioned mistress, as he abandons the modern world entirely. The novel’s other characters, including Kaname’s wife, his lover, his father-in-law, and even the cities in which they live, all symbolize the modern and ancient ways of life in Japan. Tanizaki’s characteristic irony, eroticism, and psychological undertones make Some Prefer Nettles an exceptional and compelling read.
The synopsis is somewhat misleading. Kaname doesn’t, in fact, “make love to Ohisa”. He simply spends more time with his father-in-law and his mistress.
What it is, is a fascinating insight into the psychology of the mindset of the Japanese mentality of that era as Kaname and his wife, Misako deliberate over the act of divorce. Kaname is of the “Tokyo” style and wishes to cause the least amount of inconvenience to all parties. So they choose to wait until the moment is most “opportune”.
In reality, it seems as though his heart is not made up about the parting of ways with Misako. It doesn’t seem as though Misako is entirely sure either.
I waffled between being intrigued over their dilemma and being frustrated over their indecision. What could be construed as deliberation over a very monumental decision, seemed to also be a weakness and a profound shortcoming in Kaname. So I was at once mesmerized by their dilemma and then in another moment frustrated by it.
On the whole, even though it was well written, I found it a very unsatisfying and unsettling read. I didn’t enjoy it and I wouldn’t truly recommend it for anyone looking for a breezy Sunday afternoon read. If you’re looking for insight into how a Japanese man tries to transition from traditional Japan to modern Japan then this is the book for you. Otherwise I’d be cautious about reading it.