Death by water by kenzaburo Oe

 

death by water by kenzaburo OeDeath by water , is meant to be the last novel  by the nobel winning writer . I have reviewed him once before on the blog his book personnel matter , a story of a father and his disabled child. Here we see a son trying to work out who his father was, whilst dealing with his own writers block.The book is driven by kogito Choko the main character in the book , he is a nobel winning writer, but is suffering from writers block at the moment. He is trying to write about his relationship with his father.Then he is given the chance to get a glimpse into his father as his sister offers him, their fathers red trunk which inside may contain the answers Kogito Choko is looking for .An insight into the drowned father he never really knew.This along side a theme of the writer himself and his disabled son . Then an avant-garde Theater group doing his works.What we have is a novel about legacy. There is a red trunk of his fathers things he has to open to find out about him and the drowning in 1945, also this may help his writers block on The drowning novel.

Nevertheless, I did make a stab at writing the drowning novel once, when I was in my midthrities. I had already published The silent cry, which seemed to prove that I had attained a certain degree of proficiency, and that accomplishment gave me the confidence to dive in at last.

I dashed off a rough prologue and sent it along with a number of related notes to my sixtysomething mother, who was living in the forest of Shikoku where I grew up. I enclosed a letter saying that in order to continue working on this book, which would focus on my father.

Choko had tried this his legacy book once before .

Oe has tackled a number of  great storylines here in this novel,  writers block especially after winning a big prize it is noted by this reader that kogito is a Nobel winner, for me I often feel writers have  struggled, after winning the big one whether it is the Nobel prize or even the booker, ask yourself which booker winner has written a book better than the one that won the prize(barring Mantel which is an actually a parts one and two of a trilogy ) same for Nobel winners , so kogito struggle with writer’s block is so much the story of writer wrestling to find a the story in this case a father son relationship , but also feel as thou he is breaking new ground. But as I say Legacy overhangs this will this book the drowned novel as it is called be his defining work as he wants it to be the key to his life?

Anyway in the rough draft of the prologue to the drowning novel, I wrote about something that had happened in 1945 – an incident that, at the time I had been dreaming about on a regular basis

Choko had dreamed since writing the piece in his midthrities of writing the drowned novel about his father but had got stuck.

Then there is the second story thread in the book at the most important one in this reviewers opinion the father son relationship , the motif of the missing father has long been a story in books and films. From Freud with his father complex  through Lacan talking of absent fathers.The going of rails absent father kids like Sebastian in Brideshead , to the kids that try to prove the absent father wrong. Then there is also the juxtaposed relationship of him and his son disabled like Oe’s own son. Is the trunk a metaphor for his father but also his son the case containing a legacy his fathers but also maybe he has his own trunk that he has to leave for his son.

“There work they’re doing is very post modern” Asa explained “Needless to say, their choice of a retro-sounding name was completely intentional. They borrowed their stage names. Suke and kaku from a couple of raffish sidekicks in the period drams Mito Komon, which had been running on television since these two first opened their eyes as infants.”

“sometimes fans of Suke &Kaku’s postmodern skits will come to a public performance by the caveman group and they’ll laugh uproariously at all the wrong places ” masso said wryly “It can be quite unnerving for everyone concerned – not just the actors but the rest of the audience as well ”

THe caveman group tackle Choko works in a fresh postmodern way .

Then there is the Legacy of a writers work. We see through Choko working with the avant-garde stage group the Caveman group, they have been staging his works. This is a way of him making a legacy but also the strange way they do his works may link him to his son thus forming a Legacy with him. I really connected with this novel a touching end of career novel from a great writer, thinking of his life but also his past present and future!! Beautifully translated by Deborah Boliver Boehm whether this is Oe last novel it is a great insight into the writers struggle when writing but also dealing with their own lives.

Japanese fiction

Translation – Deborah Boliver Boehm

Source – review copy

 

5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. roughghosts
    Dec 05, 2015 @ 03:58:15

    Thanks for this review Stu. I admit I just could not get on with this novel but suspected it was me. I was frustrated with the way that it seemed to be endless talking, the long conversations. In talking with my son he was less surprised by my descriptions, finding it more in keeping with a Japanese sensibility. I did feel it diluted the impact of, what you say, is the really interesting story, the narrator’s relationship with his father and the questions surrounding his death.

    Glad to know it was me after all. I do have one of his earlier books (I forget the title but it is directly from a Blake poem) that I will try one day. Oe’s fondness for Blake was actually what first led me to buy that book, but I never did read it..

    Reply

  2. Trackback: Death by Water, by Kenzaburo Oe, translated by Deborah Boliver Boehm | ANZ LitLovers LitBlog
  3. Lisa Hill
    Feb 10, 2016 @ 23:21:39

    Hi Stu, I like the way you’ve picked up on the writer’s block after winning a major award, something I overlooked in my review.
    I’ve hunted around but haven’t yet found any other reviews by a woman, so I don’t know if it was a ‘female sensibility’ about this novel or just me, but I noticed a preoccupation with emasculating women. All the women are strong and powerful, and they are brutally frank in telling him what his faults are, and they order him about, telling him what’s wrong with his books, right down to decisions about where he should live and how he is to keep away from his wife when she is having treatment for cancer.
    I couldn’t decide whether his narration of this belittling behaviour and his impotence in managing his own life was the character’s or Oe’s complaint about women demanding a change in gender relations or a recognition that it was about time in such a traditional society as Japan. What do you think?

    Reply

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