The Frolic of the Beasts

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 12 Mar 2019

Member Reviews

This book is described as a love triangle between a student, his mentor, and the mentor’s wife, but that’s not completely accurate. The writing is very Mishima (not that I’m any kind of expert), in that the descriptions are beautiful, the surroundings serene and delicate. And like many Japanese stories I’ve read, the violence erupts unexpectedly amid mundane dialogue. The behavior of the characters is confusing and often unpredictable, which made me re-read paragraphs to confirm what I understood to be happening. The writing evokes scenes of peacefulness and aching desperation, and the ending makes the entire book worthwhile. 
Recommended for fans of Mishima or Murakami, or those who are looking to explore Japanese literature. 

Many thanks to Knopf Doubleday and Netgalley for the copy in exchange for my review.
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A CONFESSION: I haven't read much Japanese Literature, and I think the last time I read it was the required readings we had when I was still in University. One thing I remember about it is it heavily reflects their culture and tradition. The Frolic of the Beasts reminds me of what I miss and love in reading Japanese Literature.

At first glance, the plot seems to be about a classic love triangle. However, The Frolic of the Beasts explores a deeper psychological symbolism of human frailty in intimacy. It follows the complex relationship of three individual, and how their decision and action leads to a violent fate each one of them has to live with. The imagery no doubt is vivid, and the lyrical language and words used in this novel heighten it more. The pacing is slow, and the story build up is not so satisfying. There is also some time it is hard to follow the flow of the story because of the confusing transition.

Moreover, the novel lacks character building. This leads readers to make assumptions about each character. Mostly, we get insights about Koji's thoughts, but the remaining characters remain a mystery. It is also hard to know how each of them is related to each other at first.

Overall, The Frolic of the Beasts isn't a perfect read, but I did enjoy reading its poetic prose. This is my first Mishima book, I am looking forward to his other works.

3/5 stars!
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I think the book is shrouded with an enigmatically beautiful story that is not for me. I wasn't able to clearly comprehend what the story wanted to portray, how it wants to make me understand the characters, or how the transitioning of the book works. But, I can definitely say that there is something about this book that tickles my curiosity for another time of reading.
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With exaggerated characters and recurring poetry that echoes like a refrain, The Frolic of Beasts reads like an tragicomic opera, and who will emerge as hero or villain will be determined by whose story you find most sympathetic.
Within the terse Japanese drama, is a myriad of love stories. In the central plot, Yuko, Ippei and Koji make an unlikely threesome - Ippei is the sophisticated writer brought to his knees by unrequited love as his wife, Yuko, a beautiful young woman, is attentive but indifferent to him. In his attempts to provoke jealousy in her, he enlists the help of a younger man, Koji, to befriend her and spill the secrets of his adulterous relationships. However, in the process, Koji falls in love with Yuko and when he witnesses her pain, he attacks Ippei for what he has done to hurt her. The crime lands Koji in jail while Yuko cares for the now-paralyzed Ippei. Eventually, Koji returns and Yuko brings him back to their home, saying she is responsible for his conviction and thus his new circumstances. But does she have other motives?  This new living arrangements also gives us an introduction to the other members of the household and community - the gardener, Tejiro, and his teenaged daughter Kimi, who takes a liking to Koji while she also uses her body as a weapon to avenge the crimes that have been done to her by men.
Eventually, the dramatic turns of these relationships morphs into a discussion of sacrifice and elicits the question - how much of the suffering described here is fictional and how much is real? Ippei is the writer whose early actions brings him great pain in his middle years, so Ippei's story is eerily similar to the author's own biography - Yukio Mishima was a prolific writer who committed suicide at the height of his career, betraying the fact that career success doesn't solve the other issues in one's life. Mishima's characterization of women as antagonists in both stories seeds a discussion of the  representation of women within traditional societies like the Japanese one being described here. Other comparisons include that of youth versus experience, culture and religion, native and traveler, marriage and infidelity, wealth and freedom. And all of these philosophical musings are packed in a small volume. It is no wonder the author was so lauded during his lifetime and why the translator, Andrew Clare revived this work. Kudos to him for bringing this written operatic to a new audience.
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Many thanks to NetGalley for sending me an advanced reader's copy of The Frolic of Beasts in exchange for an honest review.

The Folic of Beasts was initially written by Yukio Mishima in the 1960s and this is the first edition to be translated into English.
I'm a big fan of Japanese fiction, specially authors Haruki Murakami and Kazuo Ishiguro, so when I first cracked open this book, I expected something of that sort. And that is exactly what I got! The writing is so lyrical and beautiful that I was instantly transported to the setting. Each character was multi-faceted, which kept me on my toes on how they would act under certain circumstances. As the novel goes on, it become apparent that each character is a "beast" in their own way. The Frolic of Beasts was a beautiful representation on how flawed we are as humans and the impact of human desire.

There were time in the novel when it was hard to follow the timeline. For instance, there would be a flashback, but no indication that it was. Something like a date above the section would have been helpful. The novel was slow and the build up wasn't that satisfying. It seemed like the most intense thing that happened was right at the beginning when Koji was sent to jail and there was no where left to go after that. There wasn't a lot of time dedicated to character building so a lot was left up to assumption. The mentor-apprentice relationship between Koji and Ippei was not clear and if it wasn't for the novella's description, I would have had no idea how they were connected. I know that some of this is due to it being a short novella. 

Overall, I did, for the most part, enjoy reading The Frolic of Beasts. I am definitely interested in reading more translated works by Yukio Mishima in the future.
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When a young Japanese student falls into the orbit of a beautiful woman and her husband, he is driven to an act of violence that unites the three in a corrupt love triangle fueled by desire and repentance. And that one impulsive act relentlessly leads to more brutality in the poetically written novel The Frolic of the Beasts.

This novel by Yukio Mashima was first published in Japan in 1961 and has now received its first English translation. Mishima is considered to be one of the most important avant-garde Japanese authors of the 20th century, having written a number of novels, plays and poems.

In The Frolic of the Beast (digital galley, Penguin Classics) Mishima explores the unusual psychological bonds that hold the three main characters together and hints at the disturbing power lust has to influence individuals.
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This was a very intriguing, well-written novel. It did take me a bit to really engage with it. Initially it seems like a pretty basic premise, but the prose makes it standout.
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Beautifully translated from the original Japanese. The prose is beautiful on its own, but even better with the beautiful story.
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