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Scandal – Shusako Endo

October 10, 2018

Scandal is a later novel and Endo seems to have moved on from East vs. West panoramas to the conflicts with an individual’s psyche.

Set in Tokyo during the 1980s, it tells the story of an old Catholic writer struggling with old age and the feeling that he yet has to write his magnum opus. One day, a young woman shows up at a party attended by the main character, Suguro, mentioning loudly that he has not been visiting the ill-reputed street where she works as an artist lately. Because of his reputation as a Christian writer with high moral standards, such behaviour is seen by his publishers as very undesirable and by himself as very embarrassing.

He meets a young girl, Mitsu, telling him about enjo kōsai (“compensated dating”), and Suguro decides to hire her as an assistant to help relieve his rheumatic wife from such activities. As time passes he starts to dream about this young girl, but keeps silent about it so as not to worry his wife.

Reluctantly, Suguro visits the studio of the woman from the party, where he meets an older woman whom he later befriends. He also starts to discover another world, including masochism and various more or less odd forms of prostitution. The people in that world all seem to know him and Suguro suspects that an impostor is out there, trying to destroy his reputation, and starts to hunt for this man.

Eventually the older woman, with whom he now has become rather close, sends him a letter inviting him to a love hotel where, she writes, the identity of the impostor will be revealed. Suguro finds the young Mitsu there, drunk and half-naked on the bed. Here, in the end of the book, it is revealed to him that a dark side exists below his polished surface.

He enjoys a marriage of “”poised tranquility”” though severely limited communication, and is becoming aware of the “”vile, putrid smell”” of old age; his liver problems are as severe as his wife’s arthritis. Another sort of problem arises when he sees, on two public occasions, a mocking version of his own face. A hallucination? A doppelganger? An impostor?

The author’s own Catholicism, like that of the novelist Graham Green, with whom he corresponded for many years, was not that of the mute supplicant, but a man bent on putting moral absolutes to the test. Endo accordingly situates his main character, a man of unimpeachable social standing, in a quarter of Shinjuku known for its soapland salons, peep shows and porn shops, and then observes the inevitable erosions and loss of composure. As a tabloid reporter catches the scent of a potentially lucrative story, Endo utilizes the moment to accelerate the narrative. His analysis of what happens when the mooring blocks are kicked from underneath his main character, leads to a number of convoluted plot twists as, troubled by premonitions, he stumbles into the twilight zone of truth and concealment.

A psychological thriller and a literary work of art which, as it subtly peels off layers of the dark side of human nature.

Biophilous = a love of life and the living world; the affinity of human beings for other life forms

”None of you has any idea how difficult it is for a Christian to write fiction in Japan”

”Within every sin, lurks the desire of men to find a way of escaping from the suffocating lives we lead today,”

”blatant imitations of European and American avant-garde works”

Kobari roamed Sakura Street as Suguro had done. . . . He was confident of his ability to unearth some clue that would help him corner Suguro.

As he darted around on his assignments, if he was anywhere near Shinjuku he always checked out Sakura Street. . . . Each time he walked its length, the thought ”maybe this time” crossed his mind. . . . ”Maybe this time” finally came. . . . Among the many people beneath umbrellas walking toward him, he glimpsed a face he knew he had seen somewhere before. He could not immediately recall who it was, but just as the person passed him, he remembered. It was the woman who had emerged from the subway at Harajuku to rendezvous with the other woman Kobari had followed because she seemed to know Suguro. This woman was short and wore round-rimmed glasses; a drab woman seen from any angle, but undoubtedly the woman he had seen.

He walked swiftly past her and continued on with seeming indifference, then whirled back again. As the woman slowly started past him, he called out with a laugh, ”Hey. Are you by chance a friend of Suguro Sensei?” . . .

”Well, I wouldn’t say we’re friends,” she replied with uncommon familiarity. ”I’ve had a few drinks with him.”

He knew that ”maybe this time” was now.

“This thing called old age is not a beautiful maturity but something loathsome and painful, with lots of ugly aspects to it. If asked why it is loathsome and ugly, I would say that it is because it is a rite of passage, a preparation for going to the next world. A rite of passage involves having to undergo ordeals. That is one of the themes of the novel.”

“The city is like a human body, containing a multitude of different organs to cater for different functions and desires.”

” As a novelist he could not bring himself to skirt over or ignore any of the components of a human being.”

“He had the notion that a true religion should be able to respond to the dark melodies, the faulty and hideous sounds that echo from the hearts of men.”

“I feel as though our erotic behaviour expresses our profoundest secrets, the ones we ourselves aren’t aware of.”

“Old age was something hidden from view for many years, only showing itself when it was fanned by the winds that blow from the pit of death.”

“This Jesus you believe in…..I wonder if he was murdered because he was too innocent….too pure”

“I read somewhere that in our youth we live through our bodies; in our prime we live through our intellect; and in our old age we live through our minds as they prepare for the journey to the next life.

“On these occasions he put on his family-man face, a look different from the one he wore when he was writing. For Suguro, the donning of a different face did not entail artifice of any kind, nor did it connote playacting or hypocrisy.”

“Why don’t you write stories that are nicer, more beautiful?”

“True religion should be able to respond to the dark melodies, the faulty and hideous sounds that echo from the heart of men.”

“A person never knows their own true face. Everybody thinks that the phoney, posed social mask they wear is their real face.”

“A man who wields a pen has to be accountable to society.”

“I don’t want to die in darkness any thicker than this. I want to bring some kind of resolution in my life.”

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