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Passion, Obsession and Jealousy
on 30 June 2014
An early novel by the talented Yukio Mishima, 'Thirst for Love' focuses on Etsuko, a beautiful widow who, after the death from typhoid of her unfaithful husband, moves from Tokyo to her father-in-law's house in the country. Etsuko's ageing widower father-in-law, Yakichi, is a pompous landowner who has risen from his farming roots, and who soon makes her aware that he is physically attracted to her. However, although Etsuko does not find him remotely attractive, she succumbs to Yakichi's attentions and becomes his mistress, which causes a certain amount of resentment among the rest of the family. Living in the family home is her brother-in-law, her two sisters-in-law, Miyo the maid, and Saburo, a young, strong and handsome gardener. Against her better judgement, Etsuko finds herself becoming obsessed with Saburo, comparing his young, sinuous body to the wrinkled, sagging flesh of her father-in-law, and before long Yakichi notices Etsuko's inappropriate feelings for the gardener, but he is unsure exactly how to best deal with the situation. And then Etsuko discovers something about Saburo that arouses her jealousy and provokes her into an action that has tragic consequences for all involved.
An exploration of passion, obsession and jealousy, Yukio Mishima's story of complex emotions makes this novel a rather intense read, but I have to say that I did not become quite as involved in this story as I have with other novels I have read from this author. It is very well-written, there are some good descriptions of Japanese family life, and considering the author was only in his twenties when this book was written, there are some perceptive observations of sexual jealousy and of the desire to inflict pain in pursuit of revenge; however, I somehow did not find myself becoming as swept up in the story, or as involved with the characters or as convinced by their situations as I would have expected. That said, this is still an interesting and very readable novel - just not, I feel, one of Mishima's best.