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Quicksand by Jun’ichirō Tanizaki

End of this month Dolce Bellezza’s Japanese Literature Challenge 4 will end. Tanabata is doing a Hello Japan! Mini-Challenge – trying something new about Japan for the start of the new year. Between Quicksand by Junichiro Tanizaki and Norwegian Wood by Murakami, I have chosen the former and was racing against time to get this review published before the end of the month.

It is hard to write this review without revealing the plot. If you want to start Quicksand with a clean slate, and be gradually surprised and shocked (like me!), I suggest that you read the book and come back here to read my review if you wish.

The novel centers around four characters: Sonoko Kakiuchi, who is a lawyer’s wife, a young woman with ethereal beauty named Mitsuko, Sonoko’s lawyer husband, and Mitsuko Tokumitsu’s male love interest, Watanuki. The tale is delivered in first person, from Sonoko’s point of view. The first impulse was for readers to empathise with Sonoko as she fell victim to manipulation of Mitsuko, but she soon reveals herself to be just as selfish and manipulative in the scheme of things.

While taking an art class, Sonoko meets Mitsuko and is captivated by her beauty. The two became close friend and rumors of them having a lesbian affair is spread throughout the school. So in light of such, they begin to act out the rumors, where Mitsuko will visit Sonoko’s house for hours at a time, posing nude for her, with Sonoko painting her. Nothing, however, ever gets painted and soon Sonoko’s husband begins to suspect something going on. He doesn’t like the way Mitsuko has invaded into their lives, and Sonoko has been spending too much time to Mitsuko.

When Sonoko’s husband asks his wife to stop seeing Mitsuko, she refuses. Then, when Sonoko begins to detect Mitsuko’s emotional manipulation, she begins to crave the love of her husband. At this point I thought things are going back to normal but there were more disasters to come.

“So I found myself sinking deeper and deeper into the quicksand, and although I said to myself I had to escape, by this time I was helpless. I knew i was being used by Mitsuko and that all the while she was calling me her dead sister she was actually making a fool of me.” – Sonoko, page 107

Hence the title ‘Quicksand’. As Mitsuko’s male lover, Watanuki, is introduced into the picture, and is the catalyst that sends everyone into the sinking hole as Watanuki schemes to drag everyone into the scandal through his blackmail. Mitsuko too fake her own pregnancy in a hope to reunite with Sonoko. As the tale continues, events are played out and not as they seem — those who are believed to have been behind the entire scheme are later found to be innocent, and then maybe not. The plot is so twisted, the duplicitous in this book is considered to be one of the highest order, to the point that I no longer believe in any of the characters that they are innocent. Highly intrigued, slightly disgusted, I was captivated and wanted to see where the book is heading, if not for the fact that I have to go to work, I would have finished this in a day.

I think “Quicksand” is the most bold and graphic book I have ever read to-date, followed by Norwegian Wood coming at a very close second, which I am reading right now. I say it such because this is my first GBLT book I read. Read it for the first time now, I wonder if I’m too prudish to appreciate any of the beauty of the book.

But when I look back, if one read the book expecting it to be a comedic play, the book justified for its ludicrous ploy and the silliness of it all. Did I appreciate anything out of it? I did.

  • Tanizaki provided a spot-on description of passion and obsession. Sonoko get sucked deeper and deeper into the quicksand because of her lust and her desperation for Mitsuko’s affections, knowing that the relationship is heading for train wreck yet a willing party in all the deceit and lies.
  • Mitsuko knows the power of her own beauty. She seeks attention everywhere she could find with no loyalty to any of her victims. Her lies, her tantrums, her theatrical pretence are all part of her ploy to hold on to that worship of her victims as long as she could.

“I’d much rather be worshipped by someone of my own sex. It’s natural for a man to look at a woman and think she’s beautiful, but when I realise I can have another woman infatuated with me, i ask myself if I’m really that beautiful! It makes me blissfully happy!” –Mitsuko, page 107

No matter how much she was attracted by someone she’d want to manipula the other person into falling in love with her. Since she was as vain as she was beautiful, she felt somehow deprived unless she was being worshipped. She seemed convinced that it diminished her value to yield to anyone. – Sonoko thinks of Mitsuko. – page 119

  • The discussion and difference of hetero and homosexual, and can love be shared?
  • Love and commitment will never be tied down on a pact, an agreement or in a mere piece of paper, sealed with blood. No matter how hard Watanuki tried, the outcome is testimonial to that.

My verdict: 4/5

Double Sauciness for its scandalous and duplicitous plot. More sauciness than I can take (I’ll have Ginger Garlic Chilli and Pad Thai sauce to go with the review)!

What I like most about the book: Gripping. Multi-layered plot. As Mel (of Reading Life) said, “The ending will make you rethink the whole book and wonder if maybe you got everything wrong as you were reading Quicksand. ” It takes a master to be able to do that.

What I like least about the book: I don’t usually read books which contain conniving and deceitful characters. There are plenty of them in literature but this book loads them and plays them out to the max!

I’m reading this for Japanese Literature Challenge 4, GBLT Challenge and Tanabata’s (In Spring it is the Dawn) January Hello Japan! mini-challenge to do something new that is related to Japan. I have chosen the easy way out, that is to read a book from a new Japanese author. 😉

Paperback. Publisher: Vintage 1994 (First edition!!)Length: 224 pages; Setting: Osaka, Japan. Source: Own book, bought from Amazon.co.uk. Finished reading at: 24th January 2011. Translated by Howard Hibbett.

I also found Debenham’s 10% voucher valid until Christmas eve 1994 at the back of this used book (Click to enlarge).

I am proud to present two other distinguish reviews:

Mel (Reading Life)

Tony (Tony’s Reading List)

About the writer:

Jun’ichirō Tanizaki (谷崎 潤一郎 Tanizaki Jun’ichirō?, 24 July 1886 – 30 July 1965) was a Japanese author, one of the major writers of modern Japanese Literature, and perhaps the most popular Japanese novelist after Natsume Sōseki. Some of his works present a rather shocking world of sexuality and destructive erotic obsessions; others, less sensational, subtly portray the dynamics of family life in the context of the rapid changes in 20th-century Japanese society. Frequently his stories are narrated in the context of a search for cultural identity in which constructions of “the West” and “Japanese Tradition” are juxtaposed. The results are complex, ironic, demure, and provocative.

Tanizaki was born to a well-off merchant class family in the Ningyocho area of Nihonbashi, Tokyo, where his father owned a printing press, which had been established by his grandfather. In his Yōshō Jidai (Childhood Years, 1956) Tanizaki admitted to having had a pampered childhood. His family’s finances declined dramatically as he grew older until he was forced to reside in another household as a tutor. Tanizaki attended the Literature Department of Tokyo Imperial University but was forced to drop out in 1911 because of his inability to pay for tuition.

Tanizaki’s name first became widely known with the publication of the short story Shisei (The Tattooer) in 1910. In the story, a tattoo artist inscribes a giant spider on the body of a beautiful young woman. Afterwards, the woman’s beauty takes on a demonic, compelling power, in which eroticism is combined with sado-masochism. The femme-fatales is a theme repeated in many of Tanizaki’s early works, including Kirin (1910),Shonen (“The Children”, 1911), Himitsu (“The Secret,” 1911), and Akuma (“Devil”, 1912).

Although Quicksand is not the sort of books I will normally read, but I’d like to read other Tanizaki’s work. I have my eyes on these:

1924 Naomi

1929 Some Prefer Nettles

1948 The Makioka Sisters

Would you read this novel? Have you read any of Tanizaki’s novels?


About JoV

A bookaholic that went out of control.... I eat, sleep and breathe books. Well, lately I do other stuff.


12 thoughts on “Quicksand by Jun’ichirō Tanizaki

  1. Thanks for mentioning my post-for a work published in 1928 it is shocking-I do not think such a work could have been published in the UK or USA in 1928-I have the author on my read every thing translated list (I am 80 percent done-most of his works are short)-I think his best works are Naomi-at least as shocking as Quicksand and The Makioka Sisters (often compared to the novels of Jane Austin)

    Posted by Mel u | January 30, 2011, 12:10 am
    • Mel, I agree with you. I didn’t think I could find a work like this in 1928. 🙂 I am interested to read Naomi and The Key, The Makioka Sisters although is his most famous work, but the size of it puts me off. Quicksand was, I must say, a surprising first reading of Junichiro Tanizaki. Hope you had a good year so far Mel.

      Posted by JoV | January 30, 2011, 12:53 am
  2. I took your advice and stopped reading your post since I have this book on my shelf and would like to read it with a clean slate, as you said. I’ve only read The Makioka Sisters, which I loved, by Tanizaki but hope to read more. Don’t let the size of The Makioka Sisters put you off, it’s long but a very easy to read, and enjoyable story.

    Posted by tanabata | February 1, 2011, 3:59 pm
  3. I’ve got Some prefer Nettles on my TBR, might need to move it up a,bit.

    Posted by parrish | February 1, 2011, 5:21 pm
  4. I’ve been wanting to read this author…but others keep on getting on his way. I will try this year for my new author challenge.

    I agree with you, a deceitful character is not a fun thing to read…but this one sounds interesting.

    Your way of reviewing is somewhat same with me 🙂 I too always put some info of the new to me author, and starting this year I always write book detail like publisher, pages, etc.

    Posted by Novroz | February 2, 2011, 11:03 pm
    • Novroz, thanks for dropping by. I think those little details and info is nice to have, but it does mean more effort is expended trying to get those little info in!

      I wanted to try a few new Japanese authors too and I hope you get to read something from Tanizaki real soon. 🙂

      Posted by JoV | February 2, 2011, 11:14 pm
  5. Hehe .. I didn’t do a lot of effort tho 😉 yours much better than mine. I only copy the information on the back-cover.

    I hope so too…there are so many authors in the library and I want to read them all. If I am allowed to make a suggestion, read Takashi Atoda’s The Square Persimmon…one of the best short stories collection I have ever read. And I’m glad 3 people who had read it out of my promotion end up loving it too.

    Posted by Novroz | February 3, 2011, 1:14 am
  6. What makes this novel interesting to me is the fact it was written in 1928. Taking that into consideration, I wouldn’t go so far as to say this book is shocking – I think I have read too many books with similar content – but it is definitely daring. I like books that surprise me, like this one did.

    Posted by Natazzz | February 4, 2011, 9:30 am

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Ratings Defined

0 = Abandon the book after first chapter

1 = Waste of paper, we will see what the environmentalist say about this!

2 = Skip it, read the book if you have got nothing better to do

2.5 = An average book, easily forgettable.

3 = A good read.

3.5 = A good entertaining read, a page-turner

4 = So glad that I read the book, a book with substance and invaluable for future reference

4.5 = So glad that I read the book, would pester everyone to read it, invaluable, I would want to own it and wouldn't mind a second read (something that I seldom do)

5 = The book is so good that I feel like I am on scale 4 and 4.5, and more, it blew me away and lingers on my head for weeks!

Books Read

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Hold Tight
The Fault in Our Stars
The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon
The Thief
Catching Fire
A Tale for the Time Being
Into the Darkest Corner
The Liars' Gospel
Goat Mountain
Strange Weather In Tokyo
Strange Shores
And the Mountains Echoed
Ten White Geese
One Step Too Far
The Innocents
The General: The ordinary man who became one of the bravest prisoners in Guantanamo
White Dog Fell from the Sky
A Virtual Love
The Fall of the Stone City

JoV's favorite books »
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Reading, after a certain age, diverts the mind too much from its creative pursuits. Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking. - Albert Einstein (1879 - 1955)

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