Kenzaburo Oe’s literary universe is so close to his real life that the limits between both of them are not clearly recognizable. In “A quiet Life” the depiction of his family and especially his family matters is made through his “fictional” daughter, a very sensitive narrator and too mature a personality for a 20-year-old girl. Although the narrator is supposed to be Ma-chan, since most of the stories consist of discussions and opinions about the father, an implicit author Oe, as a reader you can never abandon yourself to the idea of a non-Oe Kenzaburo narrator. When I first read the summary of Oe’s works –family and a mentally-disable son- I was surprised that such limited theme could warrant someone a Nobel Prize. But after reading only one of his books, you get to find out that the family and the disable son are only the starting point of something more transcendental, i.e. philosophy, psychoanalysis, literary theory, politics, etc.
I like the structure of this book. It consists of different chapters, each one a unity in itself but related to each other chronologically and thematically. All of them start with a reference to Eeyore, the son, and a problem or difficulty; for a while that character stops being the centre or “buffer of the family” –as it’s called by Kenzaburo-, and other characters, like Ma-chan herself, the youngest brother O-chan or the Shigeto’s get focused more clearly; but all chapters end up with a reference to Eeyore, as if trying to close the circle. The same way -thanks Massa for helping me realize this- on a higher level, the whole book also get its own closing when the end culminates Ma-chan’s initial statement that she would like to marry a man who can afford a two-bedroom apartment.
This book is post-modern because: 1) there is a premeditate confusion between reality and fiction, 2) there are not absolute truths or simple explanations for the characters’ behaviour, and many opinions by that many characters, show the complexity of itself –the father’s “pinch” and its possible reasons is the best example and, I think, the heart of the book-, 3) it’s a pastiche of different documents and narratives: letters, diaries, literary and cinema criticism, political opinions…
Something surprising for me is Oe’s depiction of his daughter’s attitude toward sex, especially regarding her brother’s. At the beginning it’s not completely verisimilar her apparent naiveness, although it could just be a credible negation of the facts by an inexperience young woman. Her behaviour at the end is connected with a Japanese tradition of teaching women submission and abnegation, plus her already commented wish at the beginning of the book.
Punishment is another interesting topic to be considered in the book, with its different characteristic both in the Japanese and Western societies.
Personally, I think Kenzaburo Oe is a great scholar, very well-read, connoisseur of the Western culture, and able of creating an artificial but elegant language when writing; although maybe he lacks the contact with the not-elitist world, the down-to-earth, Japanese salary-man OL society, which makes his works a little bit dull and his family attractively claustrophobic. Anyway, something of a not so high-brow culture in his books would also be appreciated.
If you are into easy-reading best-sellers, don’t even open this book; but if you like scholarly written essays, psychoanalysis, philosophy and can appreciate the complexity of the structure in a post-modern book, go ahead: you will have fun.