The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With The Sea – Yukio Mishima

At the weekend as well as being at a meeting of UK Book Bloggers in London town, I also spent the day with the lovely Evie Wyld at Foyle for Vintage Classics Day. Well when I say the whole day we missed two hours of it because we were too busy having a good old natter and quite a lot of cake. Anyway, Martin Amis was there and he said he believes that Japanese and Chinese will become the forefront of literature (to the point where in the it’s the prime language we will all read in), he also said that literature from the 60’s to 80’s seems to be forgotten or less popular because they take longer to build up, even the short ones, and today’s modern reader pretty much instant gratification. All this is very interesting, I hear you murmur, but what has this to do with today’s book? Well it’s Japanese and it was originally published in 1963 and it has the slow build up.

This was really quite the surprise read for me, I didn’t really know what I was getting with Yukio Mishima’s ‘The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With the Sea’ (mainly because I pilfered it from my mother’s shelves when I went to stay) and as I sat down with it I wasn’t really sure what I was in for, I certainly didn’t expect a book as full and as dark as this slim unassuming book might suggest. All in one this book manages to be a tale of love, of coming of age, the darkness of the mind and a family saga.

Noboru Kuroda is a young boy of thirteen who has had five years of the world just being him and his widowed mother Fusako. In fact as the book opens and Noboru sits in his chest of drawers spying on his mother as she undresses you realise here is a boy filled with obsession and serious dependence though he fights against it. However one night his mother isn’t alone in the room as she has brought a man home with her. The man in question is sailor Ryuji Tsukazaki a man who is somewhat distant from the world and those around him, until he meets Fusako that is. Initially Noboru is not particularly fazed by his mothers new relationship as Ryuji sails away again, however when he returns and things get more serious Noboru wants action and so turns to the delinquent gang he has joined and their troubled leader.

I can occasionally be guilty of wanting a book to instantly pull me; Mishima slowly teases you and builds everything up with this novel and it catches you unawares. You are initially made concerned by Noboru and his spying on his mother, then you become engrossed in the wonderfully tender and touching true love story of a rich widow and a penniless sailor before being further disturbed when Noboru and his gang meet up and commit a callous act that actually really upset me (it involves a kitten is all I will say) and Mishima starts to let the reader know this could have far from a happy ending. I thought this book was marvellous, a slow burning taught book which packs a weighty punch whilst incorporating a truly beautiful love story only making it all the more bittersweet. 9/10

Highly recommended! Only worry is that I have heard this is Mishima’s masterpiece so have I read the best one already, anyone read any of the others?

Savidge suggests some perfect prose partners:
Kafka on the Shore – Haruki Murakami (read it before my blogging days and was in awe of it)


Filed under Review, Vintage Books, Vintage Classics, Yukio Mishima

31 responses to “The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With The Sea – Yukio Mishima

  1. I should read more Japanese literature. What (very) little I have read, I’ve always really loved the feel of.

    You might have already read it, but if you like Murakami, my favourite of his novels is ‘Sputnik Sweetheart’. It’s also one of my favourite book titles.

    • I always really love Japenese literature when I read it and yet once I have read some I always have to wait a while to read more. I am going to make a concerted effort to read more over the next few months though. I have a good one from the library which needs to go back actually.

      I haven’t read that Murakami though I have read a few, so will have to look that one up.

  2. farmlanebooks

    I can’t ever imagine a day when we are all reading in Japanese or Chinese, but I do think that books from these countries deserve more recognition. I haven’t read any Mishima, but do have this on my shelves. I look forward to reading it at some point.

    • I think Amis is meaning years and years and years in the future not within our lifetimes.

      I think you might really enjoy this one Jackie, its a slow burner but it packs a punch. Completely agree that Japenese and Chinese literature needs more readership.

  3. Mishima really divides people. All my Japanese friends either love him or hate him. I think I read one of his books a long time ago but can’t remember or was too young (helpful!) but I really want to get into his books again. He’s one of the authors you hear so much about but are a little afraid to try (like some Russian authors). I have Confessions of a Mask which is autobiographical and apparently quite disturbing, and watched a film version of Spring Snow which was very beautiful (but a little long).

    • I definitley am in the love him camp and would really like to read much more of his work so I will have to look out for him on my travels to the library.

      Confessions of a Mask sounds intriguing indeed.

  4. I’ve been really wanting to read some Mishima, either The Temple of the Golden Pavilion or starting The Sea of Fertility tetralogy with Spring, Snow; this is another to add to the wish-list.

  5. I loved this book, and bought the tetralogy soon after finishing it – about 4 years ago. So far I’ve got to about p.50 of Spring Snow. I was enjoying it, but found it quite easy to be distracted.

  6. As Jackie said I can’t imagine reading in Japanese or Chinese, but I should probably read more from there. For some reason Asia has always been low on my list when I’m picking up books from other countries… and I’m not sure why?

    • I don’t think Amis meant in the next few years he was talking about in centuries to come as power shifts that way.

      I can’t push Jackies point of Japenese and Cinese literature being just incredible, some of it is just masterly.

  7. jane

    What an interesting point Martin Amis made – I think it’s true that we often want a book to grip us from the first page, but the majority of the books which I feel built up very slowly were all the more gripping for having done so at a more measured pace. I think Murakami is a great example of that; as is Ishiguro (who isn’t a Japanese writer in so many respects, but I think certainly had a lot of influence from Japanese literature etc). I will have to look into reading some Mishima – anyone comparable to Murakami appeals to me.

    • I thought the point about books being gripping from the start and sometimes I am just one of those people so that gave me a real reality check.

      Murakami is marvellous and I think anyone who loves him would love Mishima and vice versa.

  8. winstonsdad

    i read this last month and was struck by it ,possibly was fact translarion is 40 years old and one scene was rather unpleasent ,all the best stu ,not much japanese lit on tbr pile at mo but sure i ll do another before year end

    • Its a brilliant and unusual book, some of it is rather horrid. I loved how he left the ending to be decided by the reader, I always think that can make a book like this all the more sinister.

      • winstonsdad

        yes simon ,maybe it was just me ,it has lingered in my mind and that is always a good sign ,for horror there is ryo murkami i believe in that genre

  9. Japanese horror novels bring fright to an insanely new level. Highly recommended.

  10. My goodness, Amis speaks a lot of rubbish, doesn’t he? LOL!

  11. “A good old natter” – I love that! British English is so cool.

    I’ve been wanting to read a Japanese author who wasn’t Murakami (it feels like everyone reads Murakami) and this book sounds really interesting. Thanks for the review.

    And I’m not sure who Martin Amis is but it sounds like he’s full of it. I can certainly see Chinese literature becoming more prominent and visible in years to come, but not to the point of total global dominance.

    • Glad that you lke the ‘natter’ terminology.

      I would only say that everyone reads Murakami because he is just so good, lol. I am going to discover and uncover some others over the next few months though if I can.

      I think Amis meant in centuries to come, rather than 2012 lol.

  12. novelinsights

    What an absolutely gorgeous copy. This sounds brilliant – you have obviously been impressed with this one. Perhaps one for me to read during the JLC in the summer along with I am a Cat and Goodbye Madame Butterfly.

  13. mee

    Wow everyone to be reading in Japanese or Chinese seems too far-fetched. Those are probably the most 2 difficult languages in the world!

    We’re going to read Confessions of a Mask for our Asian Book Group in September. Maybe you can join us then 🙂 (I haven’t read any Mishima)

  14. Yes, do read Confessions of a Mask with us, Simon! By the way, I wholeheartedly recommend The Temple of the Golden Pavilion, it is amazing! I’m glad you liked Sailor, as I’ve been planning to read it at one point. I’m actually planning to read everything by Mishima, as he really made an impression on me. The tetralogy is also up for me next year (waiting for the new covers by Vintage).

    • If I can get it in time Claire then I will definitley be joining in. Because I am not allowed to buy books though that included paying to have one ordered into the library!

      Ooooh we do love the vintage covers dont we?

  15. Pingback: Publishing Experience | Paperback Reader

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