Quicksand by Jun’ichirō Tanizaki


This book was first published in serial form in a Japanese magazine between 1928 and 1930. But was only published in English in 1993.

The original title is Manji. This apparently refers to the Buddhist swastika and symbolises the four people in this story.

It opens with Sonoko Kakiuchi telling her side of the story (to a writer) about her relationship with Tokumitsu Mitsuko. These two women meet in an art class and begin a friendship that soon turns into an affair.

They’re only a year apart in age but Sonoko, because of her married status, at first seems much older.

Sonoko becomes obsessed with Mitsuko. They see each other every day and she neglects her husband. But Mitsuko has her own secrets. It turns out she has a male lover. And so begins this complex relationship among two women, one husband, and one lover.

Sonoko brings letters to show the writer at one point. And I’m struck by how the writer comments on the physical description of the stationery. He (I’m presuming the writer’s a he, but I don’t think it’s actually said) describes the envelope, the handwriting. He comments that “no Tokyo woman would choose such garish envelopes” and that “the taste for that sort of gaudy excess is indeed typical of Osaka women”. I don’t have the faintest clue about the differences among prefectures in Japan, but I guess he was trying to make a point about that?

This book is full of unlikeable characters. There’s manipulation, a continuous power struggle, jealousy, betrayal, obsession, and deceit. Yet, it is surprisingly readable. Or maybe you have to enjoy reading about these strange manipulative people like I do.

I really liked his other book, The Makioka Sisters. And this book was a completely different read. It was interesting (perhaps even more so with all its twists and deceit). But it didn’t quite have the depth that The Makioka Sisters had.

(I read this for the Back to the Classics Challenge= A classic in translation).


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