Some Prefer Nettles

“Some Prefer Nettles” by Junichiro Tanizaki (Japan)

Synopsis and Review

“Some Prefer Nettles”: each to their own taste

Written in 1929 and generally considered one of Tanizaki’s finest works, “Some Prefer Nettles” deals with the ramifications of a collapsing marriage. Within this context, which seems to be autobiographical, it also examines the conflict between traditional and modern (i.e. Westernised) culture in Japan. The protagonist, Kaname, considers himself to be a modern man in a modern marriage. He even encourages his wife, Misako, to take a lover. However, he is pulled by conflicting forces between the new and the old, the imported and the domestic. This is also symbolised through the novel’s other characters: Kaname’s mistress, a Eurasian prostitute, and his father-in-law with his doll-like companion of 30-years his younger; and through the different representations of the puppet theatres. Even the cities in which they live symbolise either modernity (Tokyo) or ancient ways of life (Osaka).

Members of the Book Club were quite divided in their opinions of the book. Most did not like the character of Kaname and this fact seemed to influence their personal view on the story. They found him indecisive and contradictory. Some enjoyed the long descriptive passages on the puppet theatres, though one member found that it broke the thread of the narrative and sounded too pedantic. All the members enjoyed the passages of dialogue between the different characters. They found that during these moments the story felt remarkably modern and some could even relate to it in their everyday context. The attention to detail and the smooth rhythm of the writing added to the enjoyment of the story. Although written nearly eighty years ago, members felt the story was as relevant today, which probably explains the distaste some had towards Kaname! They gave it an overall score of 7 out of 10.

Nicola’s Book Club reading list 

Season 2 (Sep 2005 – Jan 2006)

“The News from Paraguay” by Lily Tuck (U.S.)
“Welcome to Paradise” by Mahi Binebine (Morocco) *
“The Book of Proper Names” by Amélie Nothomb (Belgium)
“Some Prefer Nettles” by Junichiro Tanizaki (Japan)
“Black Waltz” by Patricia Melo (Brazil)

* The book club favourite
In italics, Nicola’s Coup de Cœur

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