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

What’s it about?

This book tells the story of Noboru, a thirteen-year-old boy, Fusako, his mother, and the new love interest on the scene, a sailor called Ryuji. At the beginning of the story, Ryuji is a sailor on leave who has a fling with Fusako, but this then progresses to a more serious relationship as the two continue to communicate even when he is away on the ship. At first, Noboru idolises Ryuji, he loves boats and is fascinated to hear all of Ryuji’s stories about life on the seas. Things change, however. Noboru loses his respect and admiration for Ryuji and begins to resent him and his intrusion into his life. Noboru is part of a group of thirteen-rear-olds who have rejected the world as they see it and believe they live to their own rules and they alone are truly free. The story progresses with this dynamic until it reaches a shocking end.

“He wanted to talk about the strange passion that catches hold of a man by the scruff of his neck and transports him to a realm beyond the fear of death.”

What did I think?

I received this book as a present, knowing nothing about it before then. My first impression was that the artwork on the front cover is absolutely stunning, but we all know you shouldn’t judge a book by it’s cover!

This version of the book is translated from the Japanese by John Nathan. I can only imagine how difficult of a job that is and he has done it wonderfully. The lyrical, descriptive, vivid writing style is truly wonderful to read. As you can see from the quotes littering this blog, this book is like poetry. Mishima was obviously an incredibly talented writer (he died in 1970) and the translation has done justice to that.

“Then, as an angry red began to smolder along the edges of the sky, the space of park behind them unfurled into whitish emptiness and the skirts on the beacon beam fell away, leaving only glinting needlepoints of red and green light.”

The problem, however, is not the writing but the narrative. This is the first book I have read in a long time that has really struggled to hold my attention. It is not long, my copy is 131 pages, but I often found my mind wandering as I was reading, and I would have to reread a lot of the book just so I could follow the plot. A lot of that comes down to the constant switches of narrative focus. It switches from Noboru to Fusako to Ryuji constantly. I may be on my own here, but I don’t particularly like this technique anyway, but when it happens so rapidly over so few pages, I found that I never had the time to connect with the characters. I simply didn’t care that much about them and that is the main reason why it struggled to keep me engrossed. All the beautiful writing in the world is useless unless it can keep eyes on the page.

“For Ryuji the kiss was death, the very death in love he always dreamed of.”

That been said, the final quarter of this book is by far the best section. The lyrical style melds beautifully with the narrative in a way it fails to in the rest of the book. The pacing improves as we move relentlessly towards the climax. I really enjoyed this part of the book and notably read it a lot quicker than the rest of it.

The final quarter shows just how good this book could have been but for me, the first three quarters of the book got the pacing wrong. It either needed to slow right down and give us time to know the characters or speed up and hurtle us into the story at full force. Instead, it does neither, leaving us in limbo where occasionally the beautiful writing will engross you but often the pages just drift by without leaving much of an impact.

That been said, the book is fascinating and has a wonderful premise. It is kind of reminiscent of Lord of the Flies in some ways. An interesting book, if not a brilliant one.

“Glory, as anyone knows, is bitter stuff.”

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