Quicksand


Quicksand by Jun'ichirō Tanizaki is a novel about deceit, jealousy, and betrayal. Written between 1928 and 1930 as a serial for a magazine, the story is narrated by a young Osaka woman named Sonoko, who becomes infatuated and then in love with another woman, the childish but cunning Mitsuko. Sonoko is married, while Mitsuko is secretly spending time with an impotent playboy, who proves himself to be even more deceitful, at least according to Sonoko. Sonoko relays their entire story, of these two women and two men, to some author (we assume to be Tanizaki). She talks and talks, at times like a garrulous teenager, describing the minutiae of a love triangle plus one. The remarkable thing here is that Tanizaki has seamlessly woven together an immense tangled web, convincingly showing us each connection, twist and turn, of which there are countless many.


After reading a collection of short stories by Ryūnosuke Akutagawa, who died in 1927, a year before Quicksand started to appear, it was interesting to compare the authors and see how much more modern Tanizaki was in terms of style and subject matter. Again, however, the theme of suicide as an act of purest love or a fatal form of commitment comes up in this novel, as it did in Akutagawa's work and with lots of other Japanese writers and filmmakers at the time and onward to Mishima, Nagisa Oshima, and to a lesser extent Murakami as well.


There's a 1964 film called Manji that's based on Quicksand. The serial was also called Manji, but as Howard Hibbett, who translated the story, points out in the foreword, the title, if directly translated, wouldn't work in English since it means Buddhist swastika—its four prongs in Quicksand each representing one of the four lovers.

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