Earthlings
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Earthlings

Sayaka Murata, Ginny Tapley Takemori

Natsuki isn’t like the other girls. She has a wand and a transformation mirror. She might be a witch, or an alien from another planet. Together with her cousin Yuu, Natsuki spends her summers in the wild mountains of Nagano, dreaming of other worlds. When a terrible sequence of events threatens to part the two children forever, they make a promise: survive, no matter what.

Now Natsuki is grown. She lives a quiet life with her asexual husband, surviving as best she can by pretending to be normal. But the demands of Natsuki’s family are increasing, her friends wonder why she’s still not pregnant, and dark shadows from Natsuki’s childhood are pursuing her. Fleeing the suburbs for the mountains of her childhood, Natsuki prepares herself with a reunion with Yuu. Will he still remember their promise? And will he help her keep it?    

Review

Sayaka Murata has really ramped it up with Earthlings. Her newly translated novel shares themes with Convenience Store Woman; Murata again writes about people who can’t or won’t meet society’s expectations. In Earthlings, she takes these ideas to shocking, exhilarating extremes. This book is a roller-coaster; parts made me want to puke, but I wound up hysterical and itching to go again.

When we meet Natsuki she is a child and suffering cruelty and abuse from the adults in her life. Natsuki finds comfort in believing magical powers have been bestowed upon her by her friend Piyyut: an alien who is visiting earth in the form of a small, plush hedgehog. During visits to a family home in the mountains, Natsuki forms a deep bond with her cousin, who admits that he too is an alien.

As a grown up, Natsuki is vehemently against becoming part of the ‘baby factory’. She is married for convenience only, to a man who also resents and resists the pressures of society. When Natsuki and her husband take a trip back to the family home a reconnection with her cousin mutates into an all-out rejection of society and shedding of trauma. The book spirals into absurdity and horror, but the tone is never anything but matter of fact. Violence and sexual assault are described boldly and briskly; though it reads like a bizarre, grotesque fantasy, Murata keeps it real for her characters by omitting any niceties.

Earthlings is an outrageous book and I absolutely loved it.


Kim Gruschow is the children’s book buyer at Readings St Kilda.

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