Review of Life Ceremony: Stories by Sayaka Murata

Murata portrays a skewed world, often in the form of a soft, mild-mannered dystopia, where one key component of life is unquestionably different from our own. 

This creates a massive paradigm shift, accompanied by harrowing cognitive dissonance. This brand of edgy speculative fiction is simply another form of wry satire, or even humorless, clinical examination where subtext often subsumes the context. The author lovingly curates the intricacies of her disturbing visions with a calm gentleness and an irresistible charm that is almost motherly. Some of these qualities were applicable to her bestseller Convenience Store Woman, but are more closely aligned with her last-translated novel Earthlings. The masterful cloaking of everyday things in an unfamiliar guise is reminiscent of Can Xue’s manic observations of human struggles, but Murata’s quieter approach is still devastating. The key ingredients are a stark whimsicality, and a voice unadorned, proceeding through psychological backwaters with palpable asexuality, and a chilling appreciation for the way human existence, under the right light, resembles the fleshy wriggling of inorganic masses, butting up against unconscionable voids. Her haunting and sinister undercurrents are beautifully rendered into sepia-toned, puzzling experiments, where characters remind us how easy it is to become lost, unhinged, or simply an inanimate object pretending to live. For the third time I finished a book of hers in one or two sittings, and for the third time I am amazed how perfectly her sensibilities as a writer match up to my own ideals as an escapist and aspirations as an amateur.

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