Tanizaki takes as his starting point a passionless marriage to tell us about the changing mores of Osaka in the 1930s.
The marriage of Kaname and Misako has been in stasis for a while. Kaname has lost any physical feelings for his wife and has allowed - one might even say encouraged - her to take a lover while he pays for his pleasure elsewhere. This arrangement is deemed more `acceptable' in an era when divorce was frowned upon. With about 140 pages, this is a short tender tale which made me feel genuinely sad for this couple. Neither of them can bring themselves to make the break and, besides, they have a son to consider.
Tanizaki uses the character of Kaname's father-in-law to instil in his son-in-law a sense of respect for the traditional Japanese customs which are in danger of dying out. Thus, the author manages to digress onto such arcane subjects as puppet theatre and the ways of geisha which, while interesting to an extent, tend to take the reader away from the main narrative. A little too much, perhaps, because the story presents us with an interesting moral dilemma which I found myself longing to get back to. Today, of course, couples counselling would help to resolve this couple's problem in no time! And so, in the time-honoured traditional Japanese way, does Kaname's father-in-law.
Tanizaki is also the author of The Makioka Sisters (Vintage Classics)
a truly memorable book and one of my all-time favourites. `Some Prefer Nettles' is not in the same league but nevertheless it is a thought-provoking read and, with sensitive direction, would make a wonderful film.