Shakespeare was a Master when it came to crafting great melodrama. Just look at some of his tragedies, ones like Hamlet where everyone literally ends up dead. And with that bad ass sword fight at the end, how could anyone accuse old Willy of being floral and frilly? He was, like many male writers, charged with the testosterone that played out ever so well in his best work.
Yukio Mishima is sort of like that, in that, there is no doubt his books are filled with melodrama, yet unfortunately, when people claim something to be “melodramatic,” their implication is usually a negative one, but this is not always the case. There’s a difference between the High Melodrama present in the best of Shakespeare and Mishima, for example, from the melodrama you’ll find on a soap opera or Oprah novel. So plenty of great artists toyed with melodrama. Bergman did it. Kurosawa did it at times. So does Yukio Mishima in his 1959 Knopf published novel, The Temple of the Golden Pavilion. (Translation by Ivan Morris).
I am leaning towards calling this a great novel, but one reason that keeps me from calling it a flat out great novel is that there are a few moments where the melodrama becomes a bit tiresome and doesn’t always work in the narrative’s favor. The story is that of a young man named Mizoguchi who has developed a horrible stuttering problem due to witnessing his mother’s infidelity with another man while his father was dying. Mizoguchi is obsessed with what he calls the Golden Temple, because he believes it to be an object of supreme beauty. \
The novel thus evolves into a philosophical meditation on beauty, and Mishima’s well-crafted prose is beauty in and of itself. While the lead character is not particularly likable, Mishima crafts this narrative voice very well, so that even if we readers don’t always agree with the character’s motives, Mishima has made the character’s logical arguments very plausible and realistic within this obsessive universe.
The philosophical digressions alone that fill this book make it worth reading. And just like with one of his earlier novels, Confessions of a Mask, Mishima hints at his own future suicide: “What is so ghastly about exposed intestines? Why, when we see the insides of a human being, do we have to cover our eyes in terror? …Why are a man’s intestines ugly? Is it not exactly the same in quality as the beauty of youthful, glossy skin?”