On reading: Earthlings by Sayaka Murata

Title: Earthlings

Author: Sayaka Murata, translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori

From the back: Natsuki isn’t like the other girls. Together with her cousin Yuu, she spends her summers in the wild Nagano mountains, hoping a spaceship will take her home. When a terrible sequence of events threatens to part the cousins for ever, they make a promise: survive, no matter what.

Now, Natsuki is grown. She lives quietly in an asexual marriage, pretending to be normal, and hiding the horrors of her childhood from her family and friends. But dark shadows from Natsuki’s past are pursuing her. Fleeing the suburbs for the mountains of Nagano, Natsuki prepares herself for a reunion with Yuu. Will he still remember their promise? And will he help her keep it?

A dark and magical reckoning with what it might take to survive a shattered life, Earthlings is an exhilarating cosmic flight that will leave you reeling.

The gist: I came into this book cold, came out of it with shivers. It’s a strange, dark, quietly sinister book that recounts horrors in such a straightforward, childlike way that you’re frozen somewhere between screams and tears.

And it looks so cuddly and nice, right? Look at that little itty bitty squishy cuddly creature on the front *awwwwww-it’s-so-cute-me-wants-some-fluffy-precious-ahem*. Yet do not be fooled by its huggable exterior. This book positively gambols through many shades of dark—including but not limited to paedophilia and child abuse. Its trigger warning list is potentially long. And it is dark, perhaps more so as it’s often told through the child’s eyes, the child’s defences. It’s graphic, close to the bone, but the telling is straightforward, matter of fact—almost detached. It pulls short of gratuitous, but make no mistake, by the time you finish the book you are absorbed in the trauma.

Which in some ways is the balance of the book. On one hand, it’s a story about heart-breaking trauma, about dealing with personal horror. And on the other hand, it’s a comment on society, its boundaries and expectations. A third hand might even suggest it’s all surreal fantasy. Maybe it’s all of these things.

An unusual book, unnerving and strange, it’s a dark read that burrows under your skin.

Read it prepared for more than what the cover suggests.

Favourite line: “Survive, whatever it takes.”

Read if: You want an unusual read, a tale that takes you through trauma and leads you out of the other end, for better or for worse.

Read with: No plans to eat anything during the final chapter.

Get it: Earthlings by Sayaka Murata

ARC gratefully received from Granta Publications and Netgalley

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