Synopsis: The (presumably auto-biographical) story of a young gay boy trying to fit into Japanese society.
My Take: Mishima is one of those authors (like Solzenitzen or Hemmingway) whose work is made even richer by their his extraordinary personal life. A militant Japanese ultra-conservative (fascist really) martial arts aficionado, Mishima isn’t your usual suspect for a writer of subtle and ambiguous literature. What makes him even more extraordinary however is the fact that he was an openly HOMOSEXUAL, militant Japanese fascist martial arts loving author. Given the contradictions inherent in that package it’s perhaps no great surprise that Mishima ultimately killed himself by committing public Hari-kiri in protest at the modernisation of Japanese society (and arts in particular).
I had devoured Mishima’s most famous work, the Sea of Fertility tetralogy a few years ago and found it to be one of the most powerful works of literature I’d read. I mean this guy makes Gaberiel Garcia Marquez’s protagonists look like dilettantes. “Spring Snow” (the first book in the tetralogy), a story of fatalistic love in post-feudal Japan harnesses emotion in a positively visceral way and one of my all time favourite books (stay tuned for a long post on that one).
So, I had high hopes for “Confessions of a Mask”; hopes that were in the large part borne out. The book is one of Mishima’s earliest works (he wrote it at just 24 years of age which is mildly depressing from a personal perspective) and doesn’t have the literary polish of the Sea of Fertility.
However, the book makes up for this lack of sheen through compelling subject matter. While it lacks the literary flourish of Spring Snow, it’s extremely successful in communicating the sense of differentness and isolation a gay boy must feel. A vignette about secretly falling in love with a prince (as opposed to the princess) in a Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale was especially touching in my view. Similarly, the continuing internal conflict in the protagonist between self-preservation (wearing the mask and conforming in society) and what he terms “self-destruction” (exploring his attractions) is also particularly rending.
All in all I quite enjoyed Confessions of a Mask. It’s not brilliantly written, but the back story is more than enough to keep you interested.
My “act” has ended by becoming an integral part of my nature, I told myself. It’s no longer an act. My knowledge that I am masquerading as a normal person has even corroded whatever of normality I originally possessed, ending by making me tell myself over and over again that it too was nothing but a pretense of normality. To say it another way, I’m becoming the sort of person who can’t believe in anything except the counterfeit.