After reading Osamu Dazai’s The Setting Sun, I don’t know who annoys me more: the whiny author’s self-indulgence, his whiny characters, or the reviewers who give five stars to this mediocrity. Of all the Japanese novels I’ve read thus far, this is by far the dullest and most clichéd. In fact, after reading, I just might have to rethink some of the things I said about Mishima’s otherwise excellent Spring Snow, where I spoke about the lead character being a pill and not particularly likable. But at least he had backbone. Compared to the flimsy characters in The Setting Sun, though, the depressives in Mishima’s books appear like happily dancing Smurfs. Okay, not really, but The Setting Sun, while not a terrible book, is definitely a mediocre one. The characters are whiny, vapid and have no insight. The prose is flat and void of any lyricism. Littered with clichés, the deepest you’re gonna get from this book is:
“A sensation of helplessness, as if it were utterly impossible to go on living. Painful waves beat relentlessly on my heart, as after a thunderstorm the white clouds scud across the sky. A terrible emotion — shall I call it apprehension — wrings my heart only to release it, makes my pulse falter, and chokes my breath. At times everything grows misty and dark before my eyes, and I feel that the strength of my whole body is oozing away through my fingertips.”
Note the bland description, the flatness of the prose and clichés. I feel like I’m reading an MFA graduate. This isn’t the worst writing I’ve read, but it’s actually one of the better passages in the book, believe it or not. But ranking this alongside Kawabata, Soseki or Mishima is laughable. And as for the author, he was in and out of mental institutions, was apparently obsessed with suicide and attempted it several times but failed. Ultimately, in 1948 he got his wish when he drowned in a river. Just reading his Wikipedia page, one can see his life was full of melodrama and despair, despite having grown up rich. He and his wife at one time even planed a double suicide, but when they both failed they decided to divorce instead. They could have just done that in the first place.