21 May 2011

Hitomi Kanehara, Snakes and Earrings, 2003

A character study of a young Japanese woman who inexplicably enters into the world of tattoos, body modification and a dysfunctional ménage-à-trois with two murderous male friends, one of whom has no redeeming qualities whatsoever and seems to live for opportunities to inflict pain. While this is a deliberately harsh work about the alienation of Japanese youth culture, whatever big statements are being made somehow get lost in translation, and for my money Kanehara, writing at age 21, only just makes the grade for descriptive writing, at least in English. Snakes and Earrings often feels like a fantasy of what the big bad adult world must be like to a curious teenager, which might explain its cult classic status in Japan. More than actually drawing a foreign reader in, I felt the writing was actually keeping such a reader on the outside of this world, being told a story of a way of being that one does not have the necessary privileges to access on a more sympathetic level. Hence I found the novel somewhat disappointing, but then the closer one lives to this particular counterculture the more meaning it probably takes on.  PY

  Snakes and Earrings won both the Subaru Literary Prize and the Akutagawa Prize in 2003.


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