Yukio Mishima's nihilistic tale of a gang of children and their punishment of an unsuspecting sailor.
Fusako Kuroda is a widowed woman with a 13-year-old son, Noboru. On a ship tour she meets and falls in love with the sailor Ryuji Tsukazaki. Their relationship moves quickly and the two are soon committed to each other. Noboru, Fusako's young boy, looks up to the sailor and is mesmerised by his tales of glory on the seas. It's a mysterious and dangerous world that Ryuji portrays, barely imaginable.
Meanwhile, Noboru has been running with a gang of boys his own age. They are led by “the Chief”, also 13-years old. He is intelligent but nihilistic, obsessed with the idea that life is meaningless and empty. The only way he sees to fill the void is to commit some horrible crime. He leads the group in the killing of a kitten, which he then proceeds to eviscerate, pulling out all the animal's organs. This act is seen as a preparation for worse crimes.
When the Chief learns that Ryuji, the sailor whom the gang has come to idolise as the embodiment of glory, has given up his career at sea to become the domesticated husband of Fusako, he declares that action must be taken. He prepares a sinister thermos of tea and with the assistance of Noboru, the gang lure Ryuji to a dock where something truly horrible is planned.
Yukio Mishima's 1963 novel (translated by John Nathan) is an elegantly written short novel that often shimmers with its luminous and poetic descriptions. Some of the writing is breathtakingly beautiful. The theme of the novel seems to echo the 1924 case of Leopold and Loeb, later used as the basis for Alfred Hitchcock's film Rope, in which two handsome, educated young men perform a terrible ideological crime. In Mishima's novel, a touch of Lord of the Flies is thrown in, with a gang of children performing the unthinkable. The plot is consummately developed, with an air of tension and unease permeating the text until the reader is shocked by the sudden and horrific denouement.
The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea is dark and disturbing, mixing themes of death, sex, voyeurism and power. A nightmare that lingers uncomfortably on the consciousness.
The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea, by Yukio Mishima. Vintage Classics. $22.99
Review by Chris Saliba
North Melbourne Books