Prized and highly recommended here and there, I finally came around to read Hitomi Kanehara‘s (金原 ひとみ) short novel Snakes and Earrings, which won the Akutagawa prize in 2003, and was made into a movie in 2007.
The book tells the story of Lui, a typical barbie girl that falls for a punk with split tongue. She suddenly feels the need to pierce and split her tongue, get tattoos, and in generally walk a way of nihilism, self destruction, and alcoholism, ending in complete self destruction, including her relation ship.
It seems that this book is very popular with junior and high school students in Japan, and the movie also got noticed a lot. I can see the point in it, as it explores a dark side relatively unknown and well hidden in Japan. Also, Lui, the nihilistic girl, who from her outfit is the average Japanese barbie girl (or how I would call it, Katamachi girl), representing the standard of Japanese expectations towards women: cute, cute, and sorry, did I forget it, cute! But behind the cute surface she develops dark thoughts of death, wishes to mutilate her own body, being used and abused. Maybe it is this sharp contrast between the bright and dark side that made the book so interesting.
I haven’t read the Japanese version, which hopefully is better than the English version, but the English version is just so badly written or translated, that it is hard to not get fed up at times. I can’t imagine that the Japanese version is as bad, otherwise the committee for the Akutagawa prize would have never chosen this book.
What I liked about the book is that while it is so badly written/translated, you still feel the urge to quickly finish it, not because it is so well written (far from), but because you want to see how far into self-destruction Lui can delve, and how bad it can get. So to sum it up: Worth reading if you have a spare hour and want to feel psychological pain from reading about self-mutilation in bad language, but don’t expect a literary masterpiece.