Ôe’s “A Quiet Life”

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Oe’s 1990 novel, A Quiet Life/ Shizuka-na seikatsu, did not put me to sleep but reading it made me so weary that I took a nap.

I found it hard to believe the narrator’s voice was a 20-year-old virgin girl’s (his daughter’s, here called Ma-Chan). There is the usual (usual at least in recent Oe work) heaving intertextuality, including a Russian film “The Stalker,” Céline, Blake, and an early Oe novel, all of which are reflected on by Ma-Chan. Reading Oe, there is evidence of a shame culture, but he seems to be guilt-ridden (especially as a selfish father), not ashamed. Here he abases himself via criticism he puts in his daughter’s voice. She is very self-critical, too.

Molesters recur, and one is thwarted by the young woman, though the main leitmotif is worrying about and celebrating Eeyore (Haraki’s pooh donkey nickname) in whose charge the handicapped boy is left when her parents go off to California for six months.

The politics (protesting Polish communist Gen. Jariulweski’s visit) seems remote. The parts don’t fit together smoothly, particularly the discussion of “The Stalker.” The sentimentalizing of Céline is plausible for the character, perhaps. But is the whole family so obsessed with Christianity (“spiritual matters” never seem to be Buddhist or Taoist in Oe)? and does his daughter respond to Blake in the same way as her father? Interesting enough, but I’m sure I have many more entertaining and/or more illuminating books I could have read. Even for Japanese morbidity, I have unread Tanazaki books. . .

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©2016, Stephen O. Murray

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