Friday 15 January 2010


Oh, bother. I've somehow managed, again, to go and read a novel I didn't really like by an author I love. This hardly seems fair. Dostoevsky, Soseki - heroes of mine, both of them. What next, you malicious dog-turd of a universe, will David Mitchell's new book be a stinker? Will Stephanie Meyer win the Nobel for literature? Will Cormac McCarthy write 5 complete sentences in a row?

Me not liking a Dostoevsky novel and THEN also not liking a Soseki novel can herald no less than the end of days. Surely, it can be no coincidence that something that looks somewhat like a locust features on the cover of this Soseki debacle, Botchan: A Modern Classic.

I know. This is sacrilege. Soseki has been considered Japan's best author for the last 100 years; Botchan continues to be his most beloved work. But I didn't like it. I agree with the translator's admission that "its phrasing and structure are often loose and bumpy" (p. 6). I don't, however, feel charmed by it the way most people seem to be and J. Cohn tells me I should be as well. I found the narrator's moralizing to be infinitely yawn-worthy when not mildly annoying, and his characterizations of his fellow teachers just....pedestrian and predictable. There's almost nothing I can abuse in a heartless but hilarious way here. Double disappointment.

In case you're wondering what Botchan is about: a young man from Tokyo, full of energy and principles if not brains, finds himself exiled to the country as a school teacher. The book chronicles what little punk-ass bastards his students are and what slimy shitheads the majority of his coworkers are. Botchan should bode unending hilarity. Dammit! I smiled sardonically to myself once while reading this book! The rest of the time, I was feeling grateful that it was so short.

I feel terrible that this is how I'm completing my participation in Bellezza's lovely Japanese Literature Challenge the Third. I really thought that if I chose a Soseki novel, I couldn't fail to read something that would add to the love-fest that the JLC3 has been. I especially wanted this to be the case because not only did I not read 6 novels for this challenge as I'd planned, but I also didn't even pick up The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon as I was so looking forward to doing. Le sigh.


Unknown said...

So, let me get this straight; you didn't like it much?

Anonymous said...

Your beginning comments about McCarthy and Meyer absolutely crack me up! So true! Sometimes our world seems upside down in what it appreciates...I've never read Soseki, and apparently I won't start with Botchan. Thanks for the heads up.

In other news, I love Dostoevsky! Love. Him. I'm reading The Brothers Karamazov this winter, as it was Madeleine L'Engle's favorite work of fiction ever. Perhaps we should host a Russian Literature Challenge sometime.

Anyway, I loved how you ended with "the love fest that has been the JLC3"; it has indeed, with everyone's thoughtful participation. Couldn't do it without you, Colleen.

Michelle (su[shu]) said...

Ah! And here I was thinking I might try Botchan as my next Soseki Natsume work. Hmm..

Bookphilia said...

Tony: What do you mean? I love this book!

dolcebellezza: I really love Soseki's I Am a Cat. It's so funny in such a quiet way.

I also generally love Dostoevsky and I can only agree with L'Engle on The Brothers Karamazov. It's perfection.

As for a Russian literature challenge...I could be up for that. But maybe in a few months.

Michelle: I think I'm the minority on this one; I don't think you should let my review affect your desire to read Botchan at all. :)

Heidenkind said...

Oh, yeah-I forgot about that challenge. =/