So sometimes there’s this obscure story from a famous author that is brilliantly written and grabs you with the claws of a four-fingered-man-eating bear with its story and doesn’t let go until the cathartic end, yet nobody else seems to have read…
That would be Natsuko’s Adventure (Natsuko no Bouken), by Yukio Mishima.
Backtracking a little bit, Mishima is supposedly one of Japan’s best modern writers prose-wise, nominated (though not awarded) a few times for the Nobel prize in Literature. I think his style of writing probably doesn’t really translate well into English.
The guy was apparently a genius writer from a very young age and was also had a very chaotic, eccentric kind of personality, which kind of shows in his life and his novels that I’ve read so far.
When I first learned about him (we read one of his works and watched a documentary of his fascinating life) in Modern Japanese Literature class, I thought we was a bit unhinged and strange, and read his most famous novel, The Temple of the Golden Pavilion, in English. (Couldn’t read Japanese well enough just yet back then.)
I remember my opinion on it then was that the story (about a priest and his motives behind burning down a famous temple in Kyoto) was very intense. This one was intense, too. His stories have a sort of tension about them that I didn’t like at the time, but can now appreciate.
Back to the main point! This novel I just read, Natsuko’s Adventure, easily made me want to read more of his novels. I thought it was excellent. It’s a great balance between humor, romance, and adventure/suspense. The story came to a complete circle, and the writing was witty and fun to read. Though it’s not well known, this story has the best female protagonist ever.
Storyline: Natsuko, the beautiful young daughter of a wealthy family in Tokyo, always stubbornly follows through with what she says (to the utter horror of her family), and she is tired of her life and the many guys that court her in Tokyo, who, no matter how successful they may be, are wussies who lack the one thing she wants to see… passion. So she drops put of school and decides to be a nun in Hokkaido. But along the way she gets sidetracked by a guy who is looking for revenge…on a four-fingered-man-eating bear. She sees his passion. The bear hunt begins. Hilarity and shenanigans happen.
Natsuko…is so fascinating. She’s beautiful and clever, but manipulative but stubborn, both the perfect girl and your worst nightmare. She has everyone rolling in the palm of her hand, yet she makes the most outlandish, crazy decisions, it’s amazing, I love her characterization. She’s both detestable and lovable at the same time.
Also, one more thing: Murakami Haruki, that author I’m a bit unenthusiastic about, has written a novel called “A Wild Sheep Chase,” which is apparently a kind of spin-off of Natsuko’s adventure. I’ve actually read that one in the same class I mentioned earlier, but I remember really not liking it then. It never got anywhere and, unlike Natsuko’s Adventure, the ending seemed like a big mess. But now I feel like rereading it (this time in Japanese) to see if there’s any difference now. Not sure if I’ll ever get to it, but it’s definitely something to check out again.
It was a perfect book to read in February, and a very pleasant surprise. I will definitely be giving Mishima a second chance. (He also may soon become one of my favorite Japanese writers…but I need to read a few more of his works to make that decision.)