Title/Author: Earthlings by Sayaka Murata
Publisher: Grove Press
In a nutshell (Publisher):
From the beloved author of cult sensation Convenience Store Woman, which has now sold more than one million copies worldwide and has been translated into thirty-three languages, comes a spellbinding and otherworldly novel about a woman who believes she is an alien.
Sayaka Murata’s Convenience Store Woman was one of the most unusual and refreshing bestsellers of recent years, depicting the life of a thirty-six-year-old clerk in a Tokyo convenience store. Now, in Earthlings, Sayaka Murata pushes at the boundaries of our ideas of social conformity in this brilliantly imaginative, intense, and absolutely unforgettable novel.
As a child, Natsuki doesn’t fit in with her family. Her parents favor her sister, and her best friend is a plush toy hedgehog named Piyyut, who talks to her. He tells her that he has come from the planet Popinpobopia on a special quest to help her save the Earth. One summer, on vacation with her family and her cousin Yuu in her grandparents’ ramshackle wooden house in the mountains of Nagano, Natsuki decides that she must be an alien, which would explain why she can’t seem to fit in like everyone else. Later, as a grown woman, living a quiet life with her asexual husband, Natsuki is still pursued by dark shadows from her childhood, and decides to flee the “baby factory” of society for good, searching for answers about the vast and frightening mysteries of the universe—answers only Natsuki has the power to uncover.
Dreamlike, sometimes shocking, and always strange and wonderful, Earthlings asks what it means to be happy in a stifling world, and cements Sayaka Murata’s status as a master chronicler of the outsider experience and our own uncanny universe
My verdict: Totally weird, bizarre ending, but a story that’d haunt you for quite a while!
“Earthlings baffled me.”Earthlings, Sayaka Murata
Isn’t that hedgehog on the front cover adorable? But…DON’T BE FOOLED by its cuteness!
I am a huuuuuge fan of Convenience Store Woman (CSW), but this, this is a whole different ballgame altogether. “Earthlings” had like an ABSOLUTELY, UTTERLY WEIRD & BIZARRE ending. The first three quarter was palatable; Murata, or rather the translator, maintaining the dreamlike quirkiness of her writing, as we learn about Natsuki and the world and people around her. But as it got towards the end, things got more and more bizarre.
Meet Natsuki, an 11-year-old girl. She had a wand and a transformation mirror. She believed she had magical powers bestowed upon her by her friend, a cute hedgehog plush toy, whom she named Piyyut, sent down from Planet Poppinpobopin to save planet Earth from a crisis.
Natsuki didn’t have a happy childhood. Her family verbally and mentally abused her, and in school her teacher sexually abused her. She told her mother about it, but her mother accused her of having a filthy mind, and that “you’re the dirty one, not him.”
She only looked forward to her summer holidays in the mountains, Akashina, where her grandparents lived, a place far enough from home, where she could feel safe. There, she’d be able to spend time with the person she loved most, her cousin Yuu, whose mother called an alien. Soon they both believed they were aliens from Planet Poppinpobopia and were meant to be together. Forever. Until something happened and tore them apart.
They didn’t meet again till two decades later, Natsuki then 34, made a trip there with her husband Tomoya, who also believed he was an alien. They were only husband and wife on paper, but they were nothing like a couple. They slept separately and weren’t physically intimate. They divided household chores equally and ate separately, but they were happy.
When they met Yuu, Natsuki saw that he had changed and was turning himself into an Earthling; functioning as one of society’s tools and was doing what was expected of him to survive. He even advised Natsuki to start acting like others because “…once they think you’re strange, life will get really hard for you.”
Natsuki feared that Yuu would soon forget that he was an alien like her. Her husband shared the same sentiments and decided all of them shouldn’t fall into the trappings of the Factory (the society) and becoming one of their tools. He urged them all to escape and live by themselves in Akashina. It was only in Akashina, away from “the Factory” that they felt free to be themselves.
Natsuki, like Keiko in CSW, had the same dilemmas. They both struggled with conformity – they were expected to live and behave like the others in “the Factory” – to work, marry and reproduce. If they don’t conform, they risk being alienated and marginalized.
They tried to fit in but failed miserably, only Natsuki was abused by people who were supposed to love and protect her. She was forced to do things against her will, she was physically hurt, sexually harassed, mentally abused and was made to believe that she deserved it.
“Earthlings” was different from CSW in that it was more graphic to the point of extreme, especially towards the end. At the ending, my jaw dropped to the floor. My immediate reaction was “WHAAAA?? T?!” I get the message but the delivery of it was just shocking and horrifying. I cringed a lot, gasped a lot, and said WTH a whole lot, and my eyebrows were perpetually raised until they got tired. And, this book is loaded with trigger warnings too. Definitely not for the faint-hearted!
That said, I did ‘enjoy’ the first three quarter of the book, as it evoked a lot of emotions – there were horrifying and heartbreaking moments, and also tender and hopeful ones especially between Natsuki and Yuu. Their friendship was one that I loved most. It was so pure and innocent. Tomoya was quite a character too! Loved his devil-may-care attitude.
Murata also nailed Natsuki’s character as an 11-year-old girl and a grown woman who went through a traumatic childhood. One would feel enraged about her perpetrators, and easily sympathize with her about what she had to go through. Natsuki was abused so much she had to use her imagination to escape reality and mentally leaving her body to cope with the torture she experienced. So it wasn’t surprising when she seemed affectless to the sufferings of her own family. Numbness had become part of her and was her only way of coping. As an adult, Natsuki never healed from her childhood abuse, never moved on, but was just went through the motions in life.
Blunt, brutal, bewildering, “Earthlings” is bound to throw the reader off balance, especially if you’re expecting a similar treatment that was in Convenience Store Woman.Tweet
I don’t think “Earthlings” was written to please, but rather to shock and provoke. Themes of alienation, conformity and herd mentality were explored. Murata didn’t shy away from showing how cruel and monstrous our society can be, and how we alienate and make our world a living hell to others who aren’t like us.
If you’re intrigued, read it. But don’t say you haven’t been warned! I don’t know, it might make a good Halloween read! Is it a good or bad thing? You decide. But I’m recommending it to some of my friends as I’m curious to know their thoughts! I’m also going to add this book to my shelf, simply because of how it affected me as a reader and that it can make a good, provoking conversation piece!
Now I begin to wonder, what goes on in that mind of Murata…
WARNING: Only for the brave, adventurous reader. Just don’t eat while reading this.
Thank you NetGalley and Grove Press for the opportunity to read and review the eARC of this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are mine.
Have you read this book? What did you think? Was it a full-blown cuckoo read for you, or you were more blown away than ever? If you haven’t, do you intend to read this? Please share with me your thoughts!