The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea is a short novel in two seasons, set in post war Yokohoma; where a Sailor is eager to fall from the ‘grace’ he is almost sick of, for a lady who is past that definition of ‘grace’. And her young boy’s response to it through an adolescent jaden speaking nazi gang. I did not like it and the book probably has fucked me up.
Since my initial impression was a disturbed dislike, I read on Mishima’s life to know more about the context I might be appropriating. I was amused by authors extraordinary life and ‘Mishima Incident’, and indulged myself in knowing more about the man himself than the book. From my utter dislike I found myself in agreement with the popular take of book being on polarized idea of ‘masculinity’ and civilizational anxiety in post World War 11 Japan. The kids in this story are struggling with their idealized ideologies of ‘honour’ and ‘glory’, and are disappointed in its non adherence by the very grown ups who taught them that. Ryuji, the sailor, was an embodiment of the nihilist philosophy they found supremacy in, and in his openness to settle down, Noboru, the young boy, found ultimate betrayal.
From my take, the trifaceted main story line represented the dynamics of then Japanese society Mishima struggled to make sense of. Noboru is the stern yet masked traditionalist who finds meaning in old codes of living. Ryuji represents the transition, by being the detached Sailor who is open to the idea of settling down into the statics of an increasingly westernizing society from his current more heroic turbulent current life in sea. Fusako, on the other hand, is the transition; a widower who is a women of her own and well assimilated into the modern world, and is definitely the character readers can relate the most with.
The prose is beautiful at parts, even lyrical and eerily philosophical in its justification for baggages the characters or authors might carry.
“A father is a reality-concealing machine, a machine for dishing up lies to kids, and that isn’t even the worst of it: secretly he believes that he represents reality.”
Sure, this sounds deep. But considering the 13 year old Ku Klux Klan its coming from and lack of narrative precedence, they appeared embryonic and frankly annoying.
But my issue was, I believe, in finding this image of ‘hero’ or ‘male figure’ unprecedented and the kids’ response unsolicited. There was no suggestive ambivalence with his mother, rather Noboru was shown more apathetic in his relationship with Fusako, or even appreciatory in nature. To me, Noboru‘s transition was more like that of the kid from ‘This is England’ movie, though thematically different. The ‘daddy issues’ like the one quoted and superiority complex were more original to the Chief of the gang than Noboru. His and the gang’s extreme response felt very out of the blue for me; even with Noboru’s fascination towards life on Sea and his diary entries of increasing betrayals by Ryuji, his once ideal Sailor. Of course one can blame the privileged ways in which the kids were raised, but, I couldn’t find anything that warrantable in their extra w(v)is(c)e talks and weird world view. The chief often said meticulously crafted sentences that invoked a sense of false superiority and sneering look down on people around them. But, with the final act or the cat scene, their way out was always violence in ‘secrecy’. I think, I needed some emotional or historical baggage to sustain or even trigger their behaviour, other than the fact that kids were being whatever author wanted them to be.
Maybe Noboru‘s secluded life and gradual descent reflects Mishima‘s closeted childhood and his masculine response over the tagged effeminacy and homosexuality. Maybe by detaching the gang from childlike immaturity and consciously committing them to the final act, Mishima was further stretching on western definitions of ‘adulthood’ and ‘childhood’ like that of Philippe Aries. Maybe Mishima is interventionistic of his fundamentalist response towards modernizing Japanese society and hence have left the nazi goonies clan ideology childish and open for scrutiny. Maybe in Ryuji‘s nonchalant acceptance, Mishima was reflecting his own later ‘Sepukku’ with book’s definitions of honour, valour and glory. Maybe I am trying to make sense of a book I didn’t like but desperate to understand. Maybe I should have dropped the book by that visceral scene in first part that scarred me, and even warned me of what might follow. Maybe I am just not smart enough to fathom nor sophisticated enough to enjoy, but just stupid enough to rant.
I think the last line makes more sense. I might pick another Mishima up, but my feelings are still unchanged; I didn’t like the book.
The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea (Japanese: 午後の曳航, meaning The Afternoon Towing) is a novel written by Yukio Mishima, published in Japanese in 1963 and translated into English by John Nathan in 1965.