Review of Life for Sale by Yukio Mishima
Was Mishima embarrassed by this decidedly quirky, goofy little book?
Worlds away from his other fiction, this posthumous novel reads like a mystery thriller, with a light-hearted tone, dark themes, and represents a gray-area exploration of the human psyche. Is the main character dissatisfied, or simply mad? Are the oddballs he gets entangled with justified, selfish, or reprehensible?
I am no expert in Mishima’s work, but I have read enough of it to notice a preoccupation with death, particularly suicide. This fascination flows through much of his writing, it seems to me, and stems from the fact that he wrote with a purpose, and wished to apply this purpose to his life, to live with meaning, and to stir change in the hearts of people. Death takes on presence in life, stakes a claim, gathers the toil and accumulation of our struggles in order to quantify and weigh our existence. Surely, this is one of the least traditional of his works. Inhabiting the land of Kobo Abe, having departed the safer fictional waters of Tanizaki and Soseki. It was nonetheless an elegant, absurd, enjoyable novel, fanciful in the extreme, dreamlike and memorable. It suffers from deus ex machina and complete randomness at parts, but also acquires quite a bit of charm upon reflection.
The concept of a ‘life for sale’ may never have been taken so literally as in this work. Hanio creates the advertisement and is met with a surprising amount of success in his venture. But what he learns from his experiment differs from his original goal. Formulaic though it is, the episodic nature of the novel is by turns melodramatic and psychedelic, gruesome and pulpy, cheesy, cartoonish, yet always morally significant.
Scholars may be at a loss to explain how imperative Life for Sale is in World Literature, but it will not fail to entertain.
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