Confessions of a Mask
Mishima's second novel, and first major work, this is taken as majorly autobiographical and Mishima's own confession.
Here we have a slightly, but very slightly veiled examination into homosexuality and masculinity in the midst of Japan's involvement leading up to and through WWII. Some may say it isn't veiled at all, but masked by Kochan, our main character, who doesn't express things clearly, because he is not able to do so. Either way, we follow the childhood and student days of this young man who is unable to find pleasure in what he thinks he should (pretty women) and oddly aroused by things that confuse him (a mixture of violence and warrior type men suffering from that violence). As the boy grows into a "man" (those quotation marks would be his, not mine) he learns to develop a mask behind which he can hide who he is, simply enough with his inevitable death so close at hand. When the death doesn't come Kochan is even more confused and disappointed in himself for not doing enough to have allowed himself to the places he should have been to suffer the beautiful masculine death that he should have succumbed to.
I've included a bit more plot details than I often do because in this work plot has very little importance, and in actuality, is rather difficult to follow at times, as the narrative often drifts into stream of consciousness for long periods. Possibly I don't have the patience with such style as I did as a student, add into that a noisier house than... well, actually the houses were always noisy, but the library used to be open late on campus and that was quiet enough to tackle such style distanced from action. For me, this was the negative part of this work, which made a short book take far to long too complete.
The great part of this book is how wonderfully it delves into the idea of the mask. Shakespeare of course said long before this that all of us are just actors upon a stage, but Mishima seems to suggest that we neither properly know our character, nor the truth behind the mask. This idea is beautiful, in the context of Japanese society, closeted homosexuality, or hell, I would go so far as to argue for every human alive. Aren't we all just lost between who we think we may actually be and who we vaguely believe we need to act as? If not all, surely many can find themselves in this character, and the points of the novel that touch on the tortured nature of this human situation are wonderfully insightful and consuming. I would have preferred if this book had used a more straightforward style to look at these issues, or at least a bit more of an active plot to place around these psychological mazes that, especially when the character appears to contradict himself, make things a bit hard to follow. But, maybe, this is the only way it can be, and I need to invest in earplugs and stronger coffee.
Recommended, but not an easy read, nor quite as good as many other Mishima novels.
Click for More Mishima!