Book Review: Thirst for Love

6725882“To ask for nothing means that one has lost one’s freedom to choose or reject. Once having decided that, one has no choice but to drink anything — even sea water…”

Thirst for Love is a novel written by Mishima Yukio 三島 由紀夫 (1925-1970) in 1950. A story about a young emotionally disturbed  Japanese woman.

One year after the death of her husband Etsuko moves into the house of her father-in-law and lives with him as a couple. No one of her relatives understands her motifs being the wife of the old patriarch, who is also playing around with her. Yet on the outside she seems happy, but inside she has blocked all feelings and has become a shallow being.

At home the strange couple is accompanied by a maid and a servant, who are responsible for the housework and gardening. Living by her daily routine Etsuko gets to know the servant better. After a while she is finding herself addicted to his attention. In order to manipulate him to like her, Etsuko buys him two pairs of socks in blue and brown color. The whole situation of choosing, buying the present and  giving it to the young man, is very painful for Etsuko and in the end leaves her behind feeling ashamed. But this is not stopping her from seeking after his love. Suddenly she has to realize, that the servant and the maid are having an affair and the maid is pregnant. Etsuko’s jealousy is now driving her crazy and she is seeking for revenge.

Mishima is a literary genius. He describes Etsuko as a suffering woman cut from her feelings. The reader knows her inner reflections, because the story is told from her perspective. Yet I do not think that Mishima has empathy for her. He is knowing the dynamic of the relationships and his narration is lively and beautiful. He is a good observer. Sure Etsuko has a pre-history and roots for her tragic fate, but that is not in the focus of this novel. Mishima portrays a woman with no love in her life and that is a very sad story. He draws a picture of an emotional disturbing fate.

It took me some time to finish the book. I somehow find it hard to read, but I wanted to know, if the main character could change or if there would be something in Etsuko’s life, that brings joy to her. The end is surprising, but comprehensible and therefore follows the logic of the story.

三島 由紀夫. 愛の渇き (ai no kawaki), 1950. Mishima Yukio. Thirst for Love. Translated by Alfred H. Marks, 1969.

4 thoughts on “Book Review: Thirst for Love

  1. I’ve not read this particular novel by Mishima. It sounds interesting. Would you explain further what you mean by he ‘lacks empathy’ for Etsuko? What more could/should he have written about her so as to empathize more?

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    • It is my impression, that Etsuko is a character with certain narcissistic traits. It is hard to connect to her. Mishima does not write much about her life before moving into the house of her father-in-law. I think that Etsuko is suppressing her suffering from the loss of her former husband and has cut her feelings. Mishima could have explaining more of of her inner motifs or her personal history, but he is more like an innocent observer, who does not like Etsuko very much or who does not understand her well.

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