Scandal (Peter Owen Modern Classics) Paperback – 10 Apr 2006
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'Endo's Catholicism and tireless grappling with the nature of guilt, sin, love and redemption, as well as the effortlessly luminous quality of his prose, meant that the writer he was most routinely compared with in the west was Graham Greene. But with its unsettling, dreamlike mood, playful self-referentiality and ingeniously engineered plot mechanics - Suguro is shown at his writing desk "hunched like a watchmaker" - Scandal might more usefully be compared to one of Paul Auster's metaphysical detective stories. ' Independent on Sunday --Independent on Sunday
However, Suguro's dreamlike wanderings through a Tokyo shrouded in snow and fog lend the novel an eerie beauty, which is matched by the chilly clarity of Endo's prose in Damian Flanagan's translation. At once a sinister thriller and an elegant disquisition on identity and the nature of evil, Scandal represents Endo's determination to turn the novelist's gaze inwards. It is not enough, he suggests, to look fiercely into the outer world; if the writer fails to recognize his own capacity for evil, he is ultimately a fraud. Olivia Laing, TLS --Times Literary Supplement
Scandal is a subtle, eerie and fascinating book by a writer of rare perception and disquieting honesty. John Walsh, London Evening Standard --London Evening Standard
About the Author
SHUSAKU ENDO is widely regarded as one of the greatest Japanese authors of the late twentieth century. Born in 1923, he won many major literary awards and was nominated for the Nobel Prize several times. His novels, which have been translated into twenty-eight languages, include The Sea and Poison, Wonderful Fool, Deep River and Silence. He died in 1996.
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The most intriguing aspect of this book is certainly how Endo manages to simultaneously keep us reading and caring for his characters even as they commit reprehensible acts. Without offering final answers, Endo details some fascinating problems inherent in human relationships and human nature. Sin? Evil? Redemption? God? Trust? Honesty? Marriage? Multiple personalities? All of these topics are intricately interwoven through the web that links Suguro, the aging writer; his decadent impersonator; his trusted wife of many years; Madame Naruse, the mysterious hospital volunteer; Motoko Itoi, the chubby painter; Kobari, the dogged reporter; and Matsu, the caring teenager. Suguro is the focal point, and the story is told from his perspective. Some characters therefore remain incomplete to us because never fully understood by him, which serves to illustrate him more clearly. Those characters that Endo can flesh out he fleshes out brilliantly, making them complex, real and believable, driving home the point that sin and evil are inherent in all of us. I found myself identifying with several of the characters and wondering what exactly (apart perhaps from the grace of God) keeps me from living out my evil desires.
In retrospect you wonder how a couple things could happen the way they did - but there may be logical answers to these problems, provided they are framed in the logical framework of the story, which isn't always the framework of everyday reality as we experience it. Other questions may be unanswerable and intended as such, for instance what the exact relationship between Madame Naruse and Suguro's wife is. To me, these open questions add to the pleasure of this book.
The story will make you think - about yourself, the people around you, the repulsive urges within all of us, and the miracle it is that not more of us go crazy. And if you let it make you think, it will tell you about yourself, and tell perhaps more than you'd like to hear. Because it plumbs the depths of human depravity, it is depressing; because it makes the reader identify with that depravity, it is frightening.
Shusaku Endo uses this story as a kind of autobiography, accurate in depth of feeling, if not character and circumstance. He said in his A Life of Jesus that he thought of the Gospels as collectively forming a true portrait of Jesus, even where he saw them as fuzzy on the details. That is a good way to read Scandal, as a portrait of Endo.
Suguro struggles with old age, oncoming death, and the dissonance between his private self and his public reputation as an upstanding Christian. In many ways, Suguro is forced to confront himself; he learns that the foundations he has built his life upon are unsound, even his work, his marriage, and his religion. Endo's unflinching portrayal of himself in the figure of Suguro is thus poignant and, at times, tragic.
Scandal is about, among other things, a man going to a dangerous, uncertain place with his religion. Some religious people will not want to follow him there. On the other hand, this is not an exclusively Christian novel, and readers of any religion, or none, would have much to gain from it.
It is helpful, but not necessary, to have read some of Endo's other work to put Scandal in context. Silence and A Life of Jesus are classics. At least ten other works are in English translation.
Scandal is so rich and complex, and finally, so human, that it practically requires a second reading. But I am beginning to find that each time I read it, I demand another reading myself. I doubt that I will ever come to the end of it.
Mr. Endo poses a variety of questions for the reader. As I previously mentioned, the main question is the level of good and evil in all of us. He seems to suggest that those of us who worship Jesus have within us the potential to have been one of those who stoned Jesus on His way to the Cross. While this is a shocking proposition to many, Endo's tale leaves one pondering the issue.
This book, like the other two I've read (including "The Sea and Poison"), is written in a compelling style that moves the reader along without any literary roadblocks. Even though you may quess correctly at some of the outcome, you want to see how the author gets you there. I rated this a "4" instead of a "5" because it fell a bit short of "Silence" so I knew he could do better.
"Scandal" is very much full of self-references to Endo's own life. The main character, Suguro, is a Christian author, who has written novels called "The Life of Christ", "The Voice of Silence" and so on. Fans will recognise the echos to Endo's other works. Additionally, the characters often share names with other Endo novels. Suguro also appears in "The Sea and Poison", the highschool girl Morita Mitsu comes from "The Girl I Left Behind" and Naruse comes from the pages of "Deep River", (though with a changed given name, but life details are similar).
The similarity to Endo's other works ends there, however, and "Scandal" takes a no-holds-barred look at the depravity of the human heart and the urges that lie suppressed by the individual. As Suguro hears repeated rumours that he visits some extremely questionably places in Tokyo, he begins a hunt for the presumed imposter. Along the way, he encounters much that is disturbing about himself.
"Scandal" is a book that looks unflinchingly into the darkest recesses of the human heart. Endo seems unafraid to address those issues some would prefer to be hidden away, and he makes us look at them in ways that might make us feel uncomfortable. While not shocking in the explicit sense, the book does succeed in making one feel a touch uncomfortable with the matters dealt with. Endo shows a great deal of understanding for the nature of sexuality.
Although I would not recommend the book for everyone, I would recommend it for fans of Endo and those interested in the secret desires of people and the concealed corners of our own souls. This is an excellent book.