This is a short novel written in 1948 by the Japanese author Osamu Dazai. This is probably his most well known, but he’s apparently many more. My brief research into this author says that he’s influential especially for Yukio Mishima.
This is a book that feels a lot like Camus’s The Stranger. We are reading the notebooks of a damaged young man who is journaling his thoughts leading up to a decision to commit suicide (which he does not follow through with) which also leads to the death a young woman, his career as a cartoonist, and his disillusion and lack of identity in post-war Japan.
The tone and style of this novel (at least as far as the translation is concerned) is completely out of sync with what we’re reading. This feels intentional. The action of the plot involves him being a more or less affable young man who deflect from his own internal strife by making his friends and family laugh. But beyond this being a kind of performative self-delusion, it’s an absolute mask that hides his true broken and damaged self. He does not consider himself to be a human being at all, or according to the translator’s notes, does not feel worthy to be called human, which is a much darker way of thinking about his ontological situation. The resulting novel is a despairing and disturbing record of this fractured state.
I think this novel points me in a direction I’ve thought about a lot with pre-Japanese literature and my orientation to it as an American, as well as the sharp contrast in identity of Japan post-war. So I imagine I will be reading more from this author, as well as from Mishima.