Firstly, a huge thank you to Granta and NetGalley for providing me with a copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.
Publication Date: 14/07/2022
Length: 266 pages
Genre: Japanese Fiction | Translated Fiction | Short Stories | Horror | Contemporary Fiction
An engaged couple falls out over the husband’s dislike of clothes and objects made from human materials; a young girl finds herself deeply enamoured with the curtain in her childhood bedroom; people honour their dead by eating them and then procreating. Published in English for the first time, this exclusive edition also includes the story that first brought Sayaka Murata international acclaim: ‘A Clean Marriage’, which tells the story of a happily asexual couple who must submit to some radical medical procedures if they are to conceive a longed-for child.GoodReads
Mixing taboo-breaking body horror with feminist revenge fables, old ladies who love each other and young women finding empathy and transformation in unlikely places, Life Ceremony is a wild ride to the outer edges of one of the most original minds in contemporary fiction.
Murata has very quickly become a new favourite author of mine, I especially loved the darker story of Earthlings, so I was thrilled to see that a lot of the collection did follow similar darkness. Personally, I think Life Ceremony is an amazing introduction to Murata’s writing and the range that she can expertly handle. Not only can Murata take mundane everyday items that you ordinarily wouldn’t think twice about (eg. Curtains) and take them to a whole new level that you have never considered before; but she can also thoroughly explore the inner darkness of people and society in a matter of mere pages.
One of the many reasons that Life Ceremony works so well as a collection is because of the variety of stories that are included. Whilst there are many that are disturbing and unsettling; there are enough stories scattered among them that aren’t as dark and offer challenging perspectives in a way that is easier to read, allowing the reader some breathing space between the more difficult reads.
Although so far, I have focused on the darker aspects of the collection I think it’s important to mention that there are elements of humour sprinkled through all the stories. This is another reason I love Murata’s writing style. The balance of humour and seriousness is something that Murata gets just right. In many cases the examples of humour not only provide some relief, but they can also serve to further unsettle the reader. For example, I’m not sure I can ever hear the word ‘Poochie’ in the same way again… or the idea of a life ceremony.
Whilst I loved the collection as a whole, I couldn’t help but have particular favourites. The opening story A First Rate Material is incredibly strong and really set the tone for the entire collection. I’ve already mentioned it, but, Poochie totally surprised me. Body Magic and Puzzle were fantastic stories that really delve into the inner workings of the mind and how society molds, and reacts, to the people within it. Eating the City was also a fascinating take on food and foraging which was very refreshing and interesting. Lastly, I have to talk about Life Ceremony as it was quite possibly my ultimate favourite of the collection. Murata’s take and twist on the traditional life and death was captivating. There were so many juxtaposing concepts that really worked together and yet, felt incredibly jarring. I can easily see why this was the titular story.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this collection and the fact that more of Murata’s work is being translated excites me as my love for her stories just continues to grow.