THE SAILOR WHO FELL FROM GRACE WITH THE SEA –
It was all going well up until the part where the children kill a cat and cut its insides open with a pair of scissors. I thought this was meant to be – according to the blurb from the Sunday Telegraph on the back cover – 'a work of exquisite balance and beauty' not a James Herbert novel. I'd earlier forgiven the description of the naked sailor as maybe a Japanese art thing rather than something that should go into Private Eye when it read 'ripping up through the thick hair below the belly, the lustrous temple tower soared triumphantly erect'. Eat your heart out Barbara Cartland. But I persevered...
I must admit, I'm always a bit wary of Japanese literature because I never really trust the translation. If you take the translation at face value then it can work really well and produce some magical if not sometimes twisted language as is the case I always thought with Haruki Murakami or even with song lyrics where the Japanese singer sings in English as translated by themselves – Japanese hardcore punk rock is brilliant for this.
Good novels, however, often tend to have a subtext and a whole other world swirling around under the actual words and if the translation is wrong then that other world is distorted and clouded. At one point, for example, Mishima writes 'with streamers waving and strains of 'Auld Lang Syne' and I immediately wondered is that how he wrote it or the way it's been translated? Is there a Japanese equivalent of 'Auld Lang Syne'?
The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With The Sea by Yukio Mishima is about meaning but what that meaning might be is open to translation. It's many stories within one with each of these stories themselves being multi-layered. To go by the title of the book, the main story is in regard to the sailor although he is just one of the characters and not necessarily the main one, there also being the mother and the son.
It is also about the sea, about glory, about children, pride, destiny, love, life, death and allegory. The film it was made into in 1976 starring Sarah Miles and Kris Kristofferson is weirdly good but at the same time strangely awful. After finishing reading it, the book lingers in the mind because of it being such a conundrum. Is there a relationship here between Yukio Mishima and Ayn Rand, I wonder? Is The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With The Sea Yukio Mishima's suicide note written thirteen years before he famously committed hara kiri?
I think it might be.