Wednesday, 23 April 2008

Nip the Buds, Shoot the Kids by Kenzaburo Oe (winner 1994)

The fact that I read half of Nip the Buds, Shoot the Kids, and then abandoned it for Bunin and Gordimer probably indicates what I thought of it appropriately enough. I'm not sure I would have bothered finishing it if the strictures of the Nobel Project hadn't demanded it. I had formerly only heard of Oe in connection with Murikami, which is a recommendation in itself, since I am a fan of Murikami (except for Dance Dance Dance, which for reasons I can no longer remember annoyed me to the extent that I couldn't finish it. But Oe, in my humble opinion, is nowhere near as engaging as Murikami, Nobel Prize or no.

In fact, lack of engagement was my main problem with the novel. It's not that there's anything wrong with it per se, I just didn't feel any emotional connection to the characters. A wee plot summary is in order, I feel: basically a bunch of reform-school boys are evacuated to a remote village in Japan in the dying days of World War Two. Shortly after their arrival, the villagers (who hate them with an inexplicable passion - frequently threatening to beat them to death etc. Why, who knows?) flee the village because they believe it to be plague-stricken, leaving the errant boys and a couple of others behind to their fate. So far, very Lord of the Flies, one would imagine, except it's not, nothing of consequence happens. There's a reason people frequently bandy about this work by one of the only other Nobel Prize winners I have read, and you never hear anyone say "It all went very Nip the Buds, Shoot the Kids."

Also, it tends to irritate me when authors stick in gratuitous underage sexuality (not sure exactly how old these miscreants are, but 'immature penises' make their appearance on the very first page). It just seems so 'look at me, I'm so cutting-edge, it takes a work of great literature to be able to tackle these risqué themes, no ordinary 1950s writer would dare'.

By the end, I must admit, I was angry at the villagers for being so nasty to them, and I suppose if I was pushed it may make me reflect on the role of the outsider and what war does to one's mentality and ponder on whether wartime Japanese society was really like that and yada yada yada. But on the whole, I just didn't care.

No comments: