Tuesday, May 04, 2021

Earthlings: A Novel - Sayaka Murata


Where do you even begin when you want to describe the experience of reading a book like Sayaka Murata’s Earthlings? I’m a reader who, over a lifetime of reading that spans decades, has read thousands of novels, but Earthlings may just be the most stunningly horrifying one I’ve ever read. Think of the most universal cultural taboos there are, the ones shared across the globe, and it is likely that Murata has made them part of the story she tells in Earthlings about a little Japanese girl who fights so hard not to become part of her country’s “baby factory.” This is a coming-of-age novel like none you have ever read — or will want to read again.


Eleven-year-old Natsuki is a misfit whose mother reminds her every day that she is inferior to her sister in all the ways that count. That’s bad enough but, unfortunately, it is not the only kind of abuse that Natsuki suffers. Things gets even worse for her after a handsome young teacher at her school begins to give her private lessons outside normal school hours. So it is little wonder that Natsuki’s best friend, the only one she can confide in, is a plush hedgehog-looking toy she’s named Piyyut who tells her that he has come from the planet Popinpobopia to help her save the Earth. As her mother will make very clear to her, no one else will help Natsuki.


Thoroughly traumatized by her childhood experiences, Natsuki grows into exactly the damaged and disturbed young woman she was destined to become. But members of her family, and her few friends, have no idea just how disturbed she really is. Nor do they realize that Natsuki has attracted two kindred souls who are every bit as disturbed as she is — two young men who are as determined as Natsuki not to give in to Japan’s cultural restrictions or the government’s pressure to reproduce for the good of the nation. 


Bottom Line: That is the gist of the plot of Earthlings, but it is not what makes the novel so horrifying or difficult to read. The real horror, instead, comes from Murata’s detailed and explicit descriptions of the abuses suffered by Natsuki and the ways that she responds to the abuses she suffers. The author uses the same calm, straightforward prose style, almost a clinical approach, throughout the novel no matter what situation she is describing. And, somehow, that makes it all even more horrifying than it already is. I don’t think I’m exaggerating to say that reading Earthlings requires a strong stomach. Almost despite myself, I had to keep reading this one long enough to see how it would end — and what an ending it turns out to be. 


Sayaka Murata 

14 comments:

  1. It's not that I don't want to read this one, I just don't think I can handle all that abuse and the explicitness of it. At least, not right now.

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    1. Generally, I don't have that kind of problem with what I read, but this time it did bother me - a lot. I suppose that's a sign of how powerful Murata's writing is. Very, very strange book, really.

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  2. Not for me either, I think, curious as I am I don't think I could cope with it.

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    1. Cath, this is a difficult read, and I suspect that several of the scenes in the book will have just about everyone cringing to one degree or another.

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  3. "No Words"... you did a great job describing this one IMO. Thank goodness it wasn't a long story. Now my question is will you read the next book, if there is one, by this author? I will.

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    1. Diane, I will certainly take a look at the next one she writes, if for no other reason, to see if the theme carries over into a third consecutive book. I'm not sure that I would finish another one with the anti-baby-factory theme, though. If she tries to top "Earthlings," I don't think I want to go there again.

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    1. "Disturbing" may be too weak a description of this one at several stages of the story, Jeane.

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  5. "This is a coming-of-age novel like none you have ever read — or will want to read again." LOL. Nope, this is not a book I'll be reading. Thanks for the warning!

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    1. If someone had described the plot to me in detail before I'd read this one, Susan, I would have sworn they were joking.

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  6. Joining the "too disturbing" for me right now group. If reading it requires a strong stomach, I will give it a miss.

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    1. Jen, hands down, this is the strangest book I can remember ever reading. One other book I read years ago horrified me to the same degree because of one particular incident in the plot...this one did it over and over again.

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  7. I am curious, but this is probably too much for me...

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    1. It's definitely strong stuff, JoAnn, so strong, in fact, that I'm not going to recommend it to anyone unless they are so curious that they want to know more about why I reacted to the novel the way that I did.

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