Firstly, huge thank you to Granta and NetGalley for providing me with a copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.
Before I jump into the review, I just wanted to highlight that this novel explores a lot of hard hitting, taboo, topics in the space of a few pages. CW: underage incest, child abuse, child sexual abuse, cannibalism, violence, murder.
Even if you aren’t an avid reader of Japanese literature like I am, you most likely still heard of Murata’s first English-translated novel Convenience Store Woman which earned much acclaim. Although I am an avid reader of Japanese literature, I actually haven’t read it myself yet but when I got the opportunity to read her next novel Earthlings I jumped at the chance.
Earthlings focuses on the life of Natsuki, a girl who isn’t like the others in her town. Convinced that her and her beloved cousin, Yuu, are not of this world they spend their summers in Nagano searching for the spaceship to take them home. However, soon those summer searches are a thing of the past and the only thing to connect her to Yuu is their motto “survive, no matter what”. This becomes increasingly harder to do as Natsuki grows and tries to live a normal life, despite the horrors of her past and what she truly wants…
I really liked Natsuki and really felt for her, especially with the way she was treated by her own family. Her voice was very interesting, as she had a very childlike way of describing very adult concepts (eg. capitalism and sexism) which made her so unique and a great protagonist. I found the way that she would cope with horrific things that would happen to her. I thought her husband was also fascinating although, a lot more unnerving in his view on the world. He was much more extreme in his beliefs and it was unsettling seeing how far some people have the potential to be driven to reject conventional society.
Murata does an excellent job of making the reader feel uncomfortable, but you can’t help but continue to read on. I felt myself physically recoil or grimace at some of Murata’s descriptions, but I was so invested in the story of Natsuki that I pressed on. Despite the shocking scenes that are presented to the reader, the novel actually portrays very interesting critical commentary on society and life in Japan which I found really interesting.
Overall, I know that this book won’t be for everyone due to some of the subject matter but, if you’re happy with the content warnings, I recommend that you give this novel a go! It is refreshing, brutal, read which I loved. I both wanted it to go on for longer and was happy for it to be short and punchy. I will definitely be picking up Murata’s other novel, Convenience Store Woman as soon as I can!