Osamu Dazai is an esteemed author of classical Japanese literature, but he was a troubled man in real life. Like a lot of classical Western authors, he squandered his money on alcohol and prostitutes, and ultimately, died by suicide at a relatively young age. The tortured genius thing is not just a Western trope, I guess.
This book, his last before his death, is purported to be fiction, but is almost biographical in how the beats of the story reflect his real life. So maybe it is the truest explanation of who he was or how he saw himself.
The novel follows the life of Obo Yozo, from his boyhood in the countryside to his time in college, and his various self destructive and just plain destructive “adventures”. From a very young age, he has felt like he could not relate to, could not connect with and was deathly afraid of other people. Of people finding out his real self. So he covers it up by being a clown, a perfectly amiable person who hides his true self. His true self, which he sees it is not being completely human. Or not qualified to be human. The effort of keeping this mask on eventually becomes too much and leads him to spiral, bringing others down with him.
It is an engrossing and interesting book. The soul baring was at times intense. Days after having read it, I still find myself parsing out and analysing how I think of it. What my opinion of the book and the protagonist is. At times, I find myself empathizing deeply, for who has not put up a mask and felt othered. I feel so sad for Yozo, and by extension, the author. But then, I have spent too much of my life associating with damaged men and being collateral damage that I feel anger bubbling up. So, in the end, I guess it does what good literature is supposed to do. It makes you feel and think, it challenges, it provokes.