Set in the form of dueling diaries, one of an older man, and the other of his younger, but over 40 year old wife. Although it seems the old man had always kept a diary, Tanizaki throws us right in the middle of the interesting stuff.
What does Tanizaki find interesting enough to share?
Well, as anyone who has read a bit of Tanizaki will know, it's the dirty stuff.
The beginning of this book is particularly seductive and in a wonderful way. Our man here loves and desires his wife of 20 years. For whatever reason, and many are given, he was unable or had never really delved into just how much he loved her, but makes up for lost time by going all in now.
The key in question is the one that the wife finds on the floor that opens the drawer where our first diary hides. Now, she would never use that key, and we know this for sure, because after she finds it, and obviously doesn't use it, she decides to write her own diary.
Tanizaki does a lot of playing (here and elsewhere) with unreliable narrators, and interestingly, often unreliable to themselves. They aren't using their diaries to lie, why would they, but instead to be honest (well, usually anyhow), and by being as honest as they can they reveal how little they know about each other or even themselves.
Another examination here, and one that would certainly be out of favor in todays western climate, is the idea that these lies they/we all tell ourselves may often be necessary to pass through societal demands or expectations and truly enjoy our lusts and desires. Our lovely middle aged wife needs to drink herself unconscious to allow her husband to do anything he wants, yet still remain unmarred. Unmarred by judging herself as perverse or a bad woman, not just by allowing her husband his fantasies come to life, but because in her half-consciousness she dreams of the man she actually wants to be with.
This journey continues as most would expect it to, with the introduction of another man, and a freed wife now maybe a little too free. But unlike a lot of western outcomes, there is no breakdown of the family in what might be the normal way, with a screaming fight and blame. Instead, there is a certain hint that this is what everyone wanted all along.
All of this is a wild ride and that's not even bringing up what is the most difficult and hard to pinpoint character, being that of the adult daughter, who has no diary to share, and so lurks without explanation, aiding her parents in confusing and odd ways. The only slight attempt at explanation is when she is referred to as a bit of an Iago, that being the sneaky friend to Othello who causes so much trouble with a well/misplaced handkerchief.
This all adds up to something brilliant, and a highly recommendable book (though some may cringe at times) and the only slight complaint is that the final 20 pages or so spends too much time with explanations to things that didn't need them. One of the greatest thing about much modern Japanese literature is that it is subtle and unexplained, allowing for the reader to come to his own conclusions.
But, even with that, this is still a great work and one more piece in the chameleon of a writer that is Junichiro Tanizaki. Over and over I love and am surprised by his works. That this is the same man who created The Makioka Sisters is amazing just in his variety of ability.
Love Tanizaki, check these out;
In Black and White
Captain Shigemoto's Mother
A Cat, A Man and Two Women
In Praise Of Shadows
The Makioka Sisters
Diary of a Mad Old Man
Grab your own copy!