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Light and Darkness by Sōseki Natsume
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Light and Darkness

by Sōseki Natsume

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This is the last, and unfinished, novel by the revered Japanese author Natsume Soseki. It was being serialized at the time of his death, and when I say it is unfinished, it is truly unfinished, and just stops abruptly.

The focus of the novel is a newly-wed couple. O-Nobu the wife is concerned with whether her husband Tsuda really loves her, although she has no evidence that he does not. She is a traditional Japanese wife of the era, and defers to her husband in everything. However, some members of Tsuda's family believe that she is really manipulating Tsuda to her bidding.

As for the plot: Tsuda has to undergo a minor surgical procedure which requires that he be hospitalized for a week. During this time O-Nobu agonizes over whether to attend the opera with friends of her parents who are insistent she come along. Tsuda asks O-nobu why she didn't turn down the invitation. She says she told them she couldn't go:

"'Do you mean to say they insisted you go even though you said you couldnt?'

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"Yes, they did insist that I go even though I said I couldn't.'
"But if you said you couldn't how could they possibly have insisted that you should?'

Later:

"Are you or aren't you going?'
'It's entirely up to you. If you say I should go, I shall, but if you say I shouldn't I won't.'
'You're very obedient aren't you?'
'I'm always obedient...As for the Okamotos, they said that if when I asked you, and you said it was all right, they'd take me to the theatre. That is, of course, if your illness proved to be not too serious.'
'But you were the one who telephoned them, weren't you?'
'Yes, that's right. I'd promised that I would, of course, I'd already declined once, but they said that since, depending on your condition, I might be able to go, I was to let them know by noon of that day.'

Later:

'Well, come to the point. How do you feel about it? Do you or don't you want to go?'
'Well of course I want to go.'
'So you've finally confessed, have you? All right, then go ahead. '"

The novel is narrated in short chapters (sometimes breaking in the middle of a conversation), and the exchange above is about as riveting as it gets. Of course there is more going on in the novel--Tsuda has never lived within his means and his income has been supplemented by support from his father. His sister is jealous of this. Shortly before he went into the hospital, Tsuda's father cut off his support, and he frets about how they will get by. And about 2/3 of the way through we learn that prior to his marriage, Tsuda was in a relationship with another woman that was abruptly ended for unknown reasons. These, and other events, take place around pages of people trying to figure out what they should say to each other.

Most of the novel consists of the characters tiptoeing around how they should react to statements or actions by the other characters. While I understand that the Japanese have, or at least had, a rigid social code, this got to be too much for me.

I can't recommend this novel. I read Kokoro, and that is a much better book. ( )
  arubabookwoman | May 9, 2012 |
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