Piercing (Ryu Murakami, 2009)

Piercing by Ryū Murakami, Ralph McCarthy (Translator), Paperback, 192 pages Published March 27th 2007 by Penguin Books (first published 1994)
Piercing by Ryū Murakami, Ralph McCarthy (Translator), Paperback, 192 pages
Published March 27th 2007 by Penguin Books (first published 1994)


A novel about the interactions of sex that is powerfully repulsive and captivating at the same time

In Japan and the English-speaking world, Ryu Murakami first became known with his novel “Coin Locker Babies” (1980). In it he describes the life of two boys who were exposed in locker rooms in infancy and grew up to very different, albeit equally disturbed personalities. In 2006, the novel “In the Miso Soup” was published in English.

Murakami is not only a star in Japan as a novelist. He has also made a name for himself as a scriptwriter and director.  His film “Audition” from 1999 (directed by Takashi Miike) was very successful in Europe. In the movie, the gossip of potential actresses leads to a sadomasochistic torture scene.

Again and again, Murakami is asking the same questions. How does life work in a technocratic society, where there is hardly any room for personal freedom? What interactions exist between sex and power? What impact do deepest injuries have on human behavior? The film “Audition” was sometimes perceived by the audience as unbearably ice-cold, a story that dissects brutal torture scenes. Mechanisms are revealed that most people do not want to know more than necessary. Yet many are fascinated and repelled by their own fascination at the same time.

Similarly, the novel “Piercing”, which appeared in Japan in 1994, also did well with audiences. Again, the story is a game of sexuality and power that employs the author. Kawashima is a young graphic designer, married and a father of a daughter. At first glance, everything is fine. Kawashima loves his wife and child and is successful in his job. And yet something is wrong. Every night he stands with an ice pick on his daughter’s cot, places her sharp point on the soft skin and struggles with the urge to stab.

Where this obsession comes from becomes gradually clearer. Kawashima is deeply traumatized by his unfortunate childhood. Unwanted by the mother, beaten and finally given away, he suffers from his deep injuries. Again and again, the mother appears before his inner eye, she also attributes her split into two people. Because especially in moments of great tension, he has the feeling of being watched from above, hears voices and shares in a pain-feeling and a detached person.

Once again, Kawashima has given in to his predicament. His first relationship was with an elderly woman who worked as a prostitute. He stabbed her in the stomach. To get rid of the urge to kill his child, he forges a literal-battle plan. A prostitute should become his victim. With her, he hopes to kill the image of his mother and his own lust for murder. He plans his approach in detail: in a notebook he notes every single step: “Simple jeans and a sweater to change. Something as space-saving as possible. A sweater made of thin material. The same applies to the jeans. Two pairs of well-fitting leather gloves. Great mindfulness when using the gloves. ”

As disturbing as the theme, the desire to torture and kill, is the language in which this theme is presented. Completely emotionless, strategic and goal-oriented, the protagonist’s actions are like the narrator’s language, reminiscent of authors such as Bret Easton Ellis and Michel Houllebecq. Less convincing, however, is the psychological component of the novel. Again and again, the voices in the head of the protagonist speak out, again and again and all too clearly and one-dimensionally, the narrative makes it clear who blames these voices: the unloving mother.

To complete his plan, Kawashima takes a vacation, hires a hotel in the Tokyo City, and orders a prostitute. By the way, one learns irritating details, such as that in Japanese business hotels “erotic catalogs” with a wide range of women are out and that such a “holiday” is socially acceptable – Kawashima’s boss says goodbye to him with the recommendation not to catch HIV during his recovery time ,

Kawashima’s plan does not work out as he had imagined. Even Chiaki, the woman he has ordered, is suffering from her injuries. She was also abused as a child. The forerunners of the two injured are the result of a complicated network of misinterpretations and misinterpretations. Murakami blends her conversations and outward actions with her thoughts and voices in her mind. In addition to the extremely bloody plot-a bitten-out finger is still one of the more harmless details-Murakami tries to deal with the mental deformity of his protagonists.

Although “piercing” triggers disgust, but at the same time fascinating enough to be read in one go. Nevertheless, it remains a bad feeling. If social structures are to be criticized here, one crucial detail is missing: the view of the whole. Because shocking is not the fact that individual people are so hurt that they pass on their pain. Shockingly, the facts that only marginally interest Murakami-that “girls” are cataloged are that a receptionist responds to screams of pain from the hotel room with a request for “respect” for the neighbors.

Piercing by Ryū Murakami, Ralph McCarthy (Translator), Paperback, 192 pages
Published March 27th 2007 by Penguin Books (first published 1994)

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