The Temple of the Golden Pavilion, by Yukio Mishima

Mizoguchi is an acolyte at a famous Japanese temple, who thinks that he may one day become the temple's head priest.

I asked Tim, who gave me this book, whether it was anything like Murakami. He said that it wasn't, but while the writing style is quite different, I did feel a connection between the two: I think it is the sense of being in a place and culture that I don't really recognise.

Because this was a story that I think depended a lot on the religious and cultural practice surrounding temple life, and indeed Japanese society in the wake of WW2. This meant that there were episodes in the story that seemed quite weird and I'm not sure whether they're meant to be taken literally or metaphorically. E.g. the scene where a Mizoguchi witnesses a girl breast-feeding her soldier husband before he leaves on a ship, and the episode where Mizoguchi is encouraged to kick and jump on a prostitute by an American serviceman. Both of these scenes have significance in the story and in Mizoguchi's experience, so they're important for the book, but they're a bit.. weird.

Mizoguchi himself is perhaps not an entirely reliable narrator - as the book goes on he becomes more and more mentally unstable, and so perhaps these earlier scenes are meant to be taken as exaggerations (the book is written in the first person). Maybe I just missed the point.

As it is, I didn't really find the book that much fun to read - it felt a bit like hard work. I think some of the writing was quite good, but - rather like with Harukami - I didn't feel I had a firm footing on what was making the story tick, so didn't get into it.

I made a note of a section I thought was quite good (this is towards the end where he's getting a bit more unstable):

On the one hand, a phantasm of immorality emerged from the apparently destructible aspect of human beings; on the other, the apparently indestructible beauty of the Golden Temple gave rise to the possibility of destroying it. Mortal things like human beings cannot be eradicated; indestructible things like the Golden Temple can be destroyed. Why had no one realized this?
So, glad I read it, and I'd be interested to see the Mishima film now, because one of its episodes is based on this book, but I don't think I'll be rushing to read more Mishima.

Completed : 15-Feb-2009

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