I eagerly picked up Earthlings when I heard it was released. I loved Sayaka Murata’s English language debut, Convenience Store Woman, and was excited to see what the latest translation of her work had to offer. She has a unique and compelling style of prose, and a way of explaining the pressures of Japanese society that is sympathetic to her weird outsiders and totally rational in a slightly twisted way. The cover and back of Earthlings is full of praise for Convenience Store Woman, raving about the lovable, quaint, heart warming book, so naturally, I assumed this one would be similar. I mean look at that cover, that little plushy is adorable! The inside flap for Earthlings reads:
“As a child, Natsuki doesn’t fit in with her family. Her parents favor her sister and her best friend is a plush toy hedgehog named Piyyut, who talks to her. He tells her that he has come from the planet Popinpobopia on a special quest to help her save the Earth… Natsuki decides that she must be an alien, which would explain why she can’t seem to fit in like everyone else. Later, as a grown woman, living a quiet life with her asexual husband, Natsuki is still pursued by dark shadows from her childhood, and decides to flee the “Baby Factory” of society for good, searching for answers about the vast and frightening mysteries of the universe- answers only Natsuki has the power to uncover.”
I’m using the jacket description because I do not know how else to describe this book. This does accurately describe the events of the book, but, I think in the publisher’s rush to capitalize on the feel good quality of CSW, they pulled a bit of a bait and switch because, guys- this book is…. not like CSW, at all. It is dark. It is so fucking dark and weird. I liked it, but it is NOT AT ALL like CSW. The only thing that it has in common with CSW is that it’s about a strange outsider in Japan. Murata’s style of writing and character speech keeps the whole thing from going off the rails, but before long you’re reading a bloody tale about abuse and psychological suffering and it almost doesn’t even seem like it, because the writing style is just so light and strange and … nice? It’s like if Wes Anderson made a dark psychological thriller, but kept his usual twee colour pallette and style of characters. It’s a fascinating and challenging study of contrasts in style and content. I read the whole thing in a day, and as her previous novel, it was a total page turner and had me open mouth gaping “wait, WHAT?!” In the end, the entire thing is haunting and horrific and unsettling in the most unexpected way.
I will say, at the risk of SPOILERS, that there is some difficult content. The difficult content includes incest, familial abuse, sexual assault, murder and uh, cannibalism. But like… twee incest, familial abuse, sexual assault, murder and cannibalism. This definitely wins the award for strangest book of the year. I eagerly await Murata’s next English language translation because damn, she can write a book.