The Temple of the Golden Pavilion by Yukio Mishima

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The Temple of the Golden Pavilion by Yukio Mishima

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Oct 20, 2012, 10:21 am

I finished The Temple of the Golden Pavilion by Yukio Mishima and found a lot of it mystifying. Here is the review I posted on my Club Read and 75 Books thread, and on the book page. I'll be very interested to find out what others of you think, because I feel like I missed a lot.

This book, which takes a real incident as its starting point, gave me the claustrophobic feeling of entering into the extremely disturbed mind of an extremely unstable young man, Mizoguchi, a student both in a Zen temple and in a Buddhist university who is obsessed by the beauty of the Golden Temple where he studies. On one level, the novel is the story of how he progressively becomes more disturbed, both more detached from reality and more willing to do things that are clearly wrong (and that on some level he knows are wrong -- in fact, sometimes he wants to do them just because they are wrong), until he commits a terrible deed because he believes it will release him from his obsession. (And, in fact, at the end, it seems to.)

And yet, I had a feeling there was a lot more going on in this book than I could grasp. There are beautiful descriptions of the natural world, and of Japanese and especially Zen traditions, but they are intercut with stark and still shocking scenes of violent behavior. The relationship of Mizoguchi to his mother (whom he detests) also seems important, but it wasn't completely clear to me how, as do his confused feelings about women and sexual relationships. He has a "good" friend and a "bad" friend, and yet things are not always what they seem to be. The bulk of the novel takes place just before and just after the end of the second world war, and the Japanese surrender, and this too seems to figure into the novel. In a sense, the Japanese surrender was an abrupt end to centuries of tradition, as is the destruction that results from Mizoguchi's final act, but that seems a little too obvious. I do think Mishima was aiming at more than the tale of a crazy young man but perhaps I am not sensitive enough to Japanese themes and ideas to understand all he was trying to do. I found the book cold and disturbing, and couldn't really get a handle on it.