Sunday, 31 December 2017

THE TEMPLE OF THE GOLDEN PAVILION by Yukio Mishima

 This is the most Japanese book I have ever read. I haven't read that many Japanese books, but I think it would be hard to imagine another one besting this.  First, enjoy this hilariously tragic part of the author's bio:
After Mishima conceived the idea of The Sea of Fertility tetralogy in 1964, he frequently said he would die when it was completed.  On November 25th, 1970, the day he completed The Decay of the Angel, the last novel of the cycle, Mishima committed seppuku (ritual suicide) at the age of 45.
The book itself tells the story of a young man who is in love with a temple.  Yes, you can re-read that sentence if you like,but that's pretty much what it's about.  The young man has a serious stutter, serious issues with women, and is in training to be a priest.  It is quite interesting to see what a Zen priest's life involves.  Waking up is the 'opening of the rules'; then breakfast is 'gruel session' accompanied by the recitation of 'gruel session sutras,' while dinner is 'medicine'.   Also interesting is the fact that this takes place during the second World War, making this I think the only book I've ever read that tells the Japanese civilian experience of that war; odd, when I think of how many European and American versions of this story I've read.

There is lots of interesting hijinks, such as stealing flowers, so his friend can indulge his passion for flower arranging.  What a crime!  There is lots of moralising about this.  A Zen puzzle is brought up: A kitten enters a temple, and two monks fight over her. The Superior resolved this by cutting the kitten's head off.  Another monk responds by putting his shoes on his head.  I don't find this very puzzling: clearly, the Superior is some kind of psychopath.  However, this is not what we are supposed to get from it.  Indeed there is lots more moralising, about other topics, but especially about the beauty of the temple, and this kitten puzzle comes up a lot.  I feel like a bad person, but I couldn't follow.  And I also sort of couldn't be bothered to follow.  Temple?  Zen? Flower arranging?  Kitten murder?  An enjoyable strange last read of 2017.

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