Friday, May 13, 2011

Book Review: Snakes and Earrings by Hitomi Kanehara

Snakes and Earrings is not a book for the tenderhearted; even though it does become tender every now and then. Actually this is a very harsh story, talking about a hard world; the world of Lui, Ama and Shiba-san. It’s a story about a different way of life; a way of life that breaths and breeds in the darkness of the human soul; of life without hope.
     The three heroes live inside this world of ours, but mostly at the side of it. They know everything about its conventions, but they do not abide to them. They are just themselves and the road to destruction is paved by their own hand.
     It all begins when Lui, a kind of a Barbie girl with as many earrings as one can get, meets Ama, a total freak who has even more piercings on his body than her. They hit it off right away and before too long she moves in with him. What did she find so attractive about him? What else did you expect but his forked-tongue and his tattoos? She’s mystified by this creature. And she feels jealous. She needs a tongue just like his. But not only that; she also wishes to have engraved on her body the most original tattoo anyone ever made. It’s exactly because of her dark wishes that she finds her way, along with Ama, into the workshop of Shiba-san, a real master in the arts of piercing and tattooing. As she walks through that door, the floodgates of hell seem to open wide and the oncoming waters are bound to rush her into the abyss.
     Lui is an extreme character. She likes falling down psychologically time and again; to dive in with no regrets into the worlds of sin; to torment her body without giving it a second thought. She seems to live in order to suffer, and it’s exactly this pain that keeps her alive. She may be an item with Ama but she doesn’t hesitate to sleep with Shiba-san; even after he says that he really wants to kill her. At the same time she feels almost ecstatic at the idea of her forked-tongue. Actually she’s so eager to get it that she places herself into a spot of insurmountable pain; almost flirting with insanity. Ama, despite his looks, is quite a sensitive man and he really loves Lui. He hates watching her doing bad things to herself but doesn’t seem to have the power to stop her. He’d even kill for her; if she didn’t kill herself first that is. As for Shiba-san, well, he’s a man without a trace of humanity in him. He likes inflicting pain and that’s probably why he’s doing what he’s doing for a living. However, maybe, just maybe, he’s not completely lost, and a tragic event is all that it will take to bring some samples of goodness out of his dark heart and into the light.
     Snakes and Earrings is mainly a book of characters. The plot is not so important. The author doesn’t treat her creations with a gentle hand by with extreme harshness. She has a story to tell, and she’ll stop at nothing, in order to do so. The modern Japanese society comes under the microscope, goes through her fine filter and comes out at the other side just as bad as it could ever be. Sex, violence, drugs, alcohol, prostitution, fears; she talks about all these matters in a masterful way, in a raw language that could be hard to cope with, but which is the only one that could describe things as they really are.
     This is a hell of a novel, about the hell of some people’s everyday lives.

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