Review: Earthlings

Four stars
Four stars

TRIGGER WARNING – Child abuse, rape, incest, murder

THE PLOT: ‘Earthlings’ by Sayaka Murata (translated by Ginny Tapeley Takemori) is literary, surrealist fiction about an 11-year-old girl who feels like an alien. Scorned by her mother and ignored by her father, Natsuki has always felt different to other people. Every year, she looks forward to visiting her grandmother’s house with her cousins. But, after a sexual assault, the connection to the wider family is severed. During the novel, Natsuki grows up and arranges a loveless marriage to appear normal to society. But all she wants is to return to her grandmother’s house and find a spaceship to take her away from the earthlings.

RATING:  This might surprise a lot of people but I’m giving this book four stars. I’ve seen bad reviews because the first half of the novel is emotionally gutting and the second half is random, absurd and uncomfortable. However, I enjoyed how surreal it was and I believe in the message behind this work of art. Maybe it’s because I felt like an outsider growing up? Maybe it’s because I’m Popinpobopian?  I don’t know. I just feel like even in its weirdest moments, or maybe because of its weirdest moments, it was a very good book.

GOOD BITS: I am in love with Sayaka Murata’s writing style. It’s so simple and clean; it’s incredible how she can evoke so much story with so few words. In less than a hundred pages, I really cared about the three principal characters and felt for them despite the despicable things they did. I mean, you know it’s good writing when the author’s gets you questioning whether incest and cannibalism is wrong!?! Overall, I think I just really vibe with the message of Murata’s work. I like how this novel, in and of itself, pushes back against societal pressures and expectations.

NOT SO GOOD BITS: It is a difficult and uncomfortable read. This novel is essentially split in two halves between Natsuki’s childhood and adulthood. In the first half, I was very startled at the stark abuse Natsuki suffered. For me, it came out of nowhere and it was painful to read it narrated so factually. In the second half, the book mutates into a surrealist horror and I’m still not 100 per cent clear if the events actually happened or not. These are clearly deliberate choices by the author but I think they might upset a lot of people.

OVERALL: I’d recommend this book to lovers of ‘Cat’s Cradle’ by Kurt Vonnegut or ‘The Sellout’ by Paul Beatty. To be honest, I would recommend reading Sayaka Murata’s ‘Convenience Store Woman’ before ‘Earthlings’. Though they both deal with the same overarching theme of resisting social pressures, CSW is less dark and more grounded in reality so I think it’d appeal to a wider audience. However, I’m very glad I bought this book and I’m happy that it exists in the world.