Friday 27 June 2008

Teenaged nihilism is so five minutes ago

Someone I know cyberspacially (should I trademark this little neo-logism of mine?) warned me that Hitomi Kanehara's Snakes and Earrings was a complete and utter piece of shite. It was so bad that it made him angry, and as we all know, that's a sure sign of something going horribly wrong literarily. Books should never make us angry - well, at least not in a prolonged, "Why did the universe allow this idiot to write and publish books??", "Why was ever I given eyes to read this mush???" way.

I just finished Snakes and Earrings and agree that it was unforgivably bad. It's all about being a punk-ass semi-transient teenager in contemporary Japan. Apparently being punk-ass and semi-transient also involves getting tattoos, tongue piercings, engaging in lots of random sexual activity, and either killing or watching people get killed (all rendered pretty much equivalent - because all meaningless - in this novel).

And oh, the meaninglessness of it all is something you're not allowed to forget when reading this one. Kanehara sums it all up with this beautiful gem: "All I wanted was to be part of an underground world where the sun doesn't shine, there are no serenades, and the sound of children's laughter is never, ever heard" (p. 44). Sounds like the underground mall at Yonge and Bloor to me.

This book's badness didn't anger me - it just bored me half to death, and if it weren't so blessedly short, I probably wouldn't have bothered to finish it. No, what irked me beyond description is that it won the Akutagawa Prize, which was established in 1935 in honour of the incomparable Ryonosuke Akutagawa; previous recipients include Kobo Abe, Kenzaburo Oe, and Teru Miyamoto, who are/were all brilliant. Then again, Ryu Murakami also won this award, so
clearly the panel of judges is either insane or changes every year.

In the end, I can't say I regret reading this book but I would be a better and more fulfilled human being for having read something else instead. Speaking of reading other things, if I don't start Terry Pratchett's The Colour of Magic soon, my husband's going to start speaking to a divorce lawyer (he bought it for me a while ago when I was complaining about the dearth of hilarious books in my repertoire). Expect my first review of Pratchett in the near future.

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