Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Blogmas 2k15: Day 1-- Review: Audition by Ryū Murakami

Audition by Ryū Murakami [Good Reads Rating: 1/5]

In my August Reading Wrap-Up, I promised to review this book along with a pair of other Ryū Murakami books I picked up in the waning days of summer.  Originally, this was my intention.  As the weeks wore on, however, it became readily apparent that my disappointment in Audition wasn’t drawing me to my other books by this Murakami.  At this point I am uncertain if I will really the other two books I own by Murakami so I had best post my thoughts on Audition NOW, while my review notes are still [relatively] fresh in my mind because. 

My review for Audition is best summarized by a simple, monosyllabic “no.” 

No, you should not read this book.

No, the plot wears thin and the writing in adolescent.

No, this book isn’t for the faint of heart.

No, the depiction of women in this book is worse than you are thinking.  

Ryū Murakami (no relation to Haruki) is something of a Japanese renaissance man: he was the drummer in a rock band, produced 8 mm films, ran his own music label, created and edited his own email magazine, started his own video streaming service, hosted his own talk show on business and finance, and started a business to create ebooks.  With all of these business ventures in his past and currently on his place, one can’t help but wonder if Murakami has spread himself too thin. 

Based on the novel it would seem so.

 Audition tells the story of a middle aged widower, Aoyama, who with the encouragement of a friend, holds auditions for a fake movie as a ruse in order to find the perfect woman to potentially become his new wife. Eventually, Aoyama sets his sights on Asami, a former ballet dancer half his age.  The pair’s courtship starts off well but begins to encounters some hiccups when Aoyama professes his love for Asami and his desire to marry her.  Asami momentarily retreats from Aoyama, blaming her reticence on her traumatic childhood and the abuse she suffered at the hands of her paraplegic step-father.  At first Aoyama is amazed at Asami, though a little skittish, is as well-adjusted as she is.  However, soon after he reveals he has a teenage son, Asami goes cray cray and things get . . . splatter-y (?).

My beef with Audition has a lot to do with the last thirty pages or so of the novel.  First and foremost, there is a scene of graphic violence against animals that would have been a deal breaker for me, regardless of if the book had been well-written or had a feminist twist to it (spoiler: it had neither).  If you are a critter lover (like me) or CAN’T EVEN when it comes to cruelty to animals, give this book a wide berth. 

My second issue with Audition is its use of the “crazy ex-girlfriend” trope.  Not only is this plot twist its ablest, it’s misogynistic.  Women’s thoughts and feelings have long been marginalized as “crazy” by male relatives, partners, or colleagues.  Questioning a woman’s sanity is an easy way to avoid answering her charges.  Furthermore, the “crazy” has long been used to cut women in positions of power down to size.  The label is an act of projection whereby an insecure man casts his anxieties upon a woman; certainly, in a patriarchal society there must be something wrong with a woman who both commands and confounds, right? Right? No.

And what about the crazy villain, eh? Having a villain who is criminally insane is a distortion of the facts.  Mentally ill individuals are exponentially more likely to be the victims of a crime than to be the perpetrators of a violent crime.  Characters like Asami serve to further a dangerous stereotype that stigmatizes mental illness and prevents many people from seeking the help they need.  While one work of transgressive fiction is certainly not responsible for the stigma surrounding mental illness, the book—and the cult film based on the novel—is one of a multitude of works of popular culture that reinforce this insulting point of view. 

Believe me, there are far better ways to spend your long winter nights than to read Audition . . . like cleaning out your cat’s litterbox. 

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