Saturday, April 17, 2010

Yukio Mishima: "Spring Snow"

(Vintage, 1990)

A few weeks ago I got ahead of myself and started reviewing Mishima's Sea of Fertility tetralogy at the second book. You'll recall that I didn't care too much for the latter, which I characterized as a tale of whiney fascist manchildren obsessing about each others' purity (Jonas Brothers zing opportunity?). I should say at this point that part of my frustration with Runaway Horses was that it failed to live up to its precursor, Spring Snow.

If the second installment of the tetralogy is a tale of whiney manchildren doing squat thrusts together and fanasizing about how their abs and chests will look when they commit suicide, then the first distinguishes itself as a tale of whiney manchildren being rich, listless, ruining the lives of others through indecision, and generally pulling an affected Young Werther routine. I should specify: there is only one such ridiculous manchild in Spring Snow, the other young men being fairly reasonable and even likeable. The manchild in question is the one who, hypothesizes the character Honda, who lives through all four books, will be reborn as a fascist kendo enthusiast next time around (amd subsequently reborn in novels 3 and 4). The ill-fated character in question, Kiyoaki, symbolizes the last bloom or the sunset of the Meiji era (the novel starts in 1911, in the early years of the Taisho period). Certainly, he is not made for the 20th century; he invokes Eugene Onegin, but in a degenerate kind of way. He is the kind of character who is made to die; along the way, he compromises others and generally acts like a natural force.

So far this doesn't amount to much of an endorsement, but I'd like to flag Spring Snow as possibly rewarding to patient readers, especially those with a feel or affinity for elegance and decadence. Like most of Mishima's work, Spring Snow is baroque and plodding. It generally succeeds, however, where Runaway Horses fails. There were a few points in the novel which were absolutely beautiful, others quite singular (the protagonist drinking a glass of snapping turtle blood, dining alone in a big empty mansion). Generally, this is a more palatable introduction to Mishima than his other fare.

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