Re-read: Tanizaki Jun’ichrô: The Key

Tanizaki Jun‘ichirô (1886-1965) is a very famous writer of Japan. His many novels deal with Japanese tradition and modernity. He is honoured worldwide for his work.

He founded the magazine Shinshichô (New Thinking) where he published his story The Tatoo in 1910. Becoming a shooting star in the literary world soon after.

Some of his best novels are: The Makioka Sisters, The Diary of an Old Man, Naomi, Some prefer Nettles. He won many literary prizes and is the name-giver of the Tanizaki-Prize.

One of his best-known books is The Key.

The Key is a story of an abortive marriage.

A Japanese Professor at the age of 55 and his ten years younger wife are living a traditional marriage in the middle of the 20th century.

She is the one who comes to the belief, that they were not meant to each other due to their unsatisfactory love life. The Professor suffers because he could no longer satisfy his wife’s needs, but lacks confidence to speak about the problem with her.

So he writes everything down in a diary: his wishes, his jealous thinking and his thoughts about his doubts. Hiding not back anymore he manipulates her to find and read the book. On the other hand she is writing a diary by herself either, which her husband consults secretly.

The reader follows the story by reading parts of both diaries alternately. Because both play their game the reader is drawn into the fascinating dynamic of the couple’s relationship. As she starts reading his writings she begins to play theater for him. She stages herself in a very different provocative manner. The effect is that he is driven by jealousy and to body physical decay.

Both characters are multifaceted and vivid. The story shows many grotesque scenes but is not obscene in any way. Although the reader knows both perspectives you cannot always be sure, what is true and what is fake. Therefore it is often humourous. Although the story is written in 1956 it is timeless. The Key is nowadays one of the Japanese classics.

33e93964b79c1b99f9045bc20d20de4ePicture: Women’s manners of the day. Kobayakawa Kiyoshi.

2 thoughts on “Re-read: Tanizaki Jun’ichrô: The Key

  1. Pingback: A Short History of Japanese Literature, Part 6 | Japan Kaleidoskop

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