TW: Child abuse (mental and physical), rape, murder, cannibalism
Earthlings by Sayaka Murata is a magical realism sci-fi novel that comments on society’s (especially Japanese society) rigid and demand to be the same as everyone else. Earthlings also explore different forms of abuse — sexual, mental, and physical and how individuals deal surviving these abuses — especially women.
This dark novel follows the story of Natsuki, a young Japanese girl who might be a witch or an alien from another planet. Together with her cousin Yuu, Natsuki spends her summers celebrating the Obon festival in the mountains of Nagano with all her family. After a terrible sequence of events separates the two children forever, they make a promise to survive no matter what.
After the events of her childhood, Natsuki is grown and lives a quiet life with her asexual husband, both refusing to become part of The Factory of society with predetermined expectations. One day Natsuki and her husband Tomoya visit the mountains from her childhood and meet up with Yuu. Soon all three start planning on how to remove themselves from The Factory and return to their alien world.
This novel is unexpectedly strange and dark. There all sorts of abuse written on the page, so I would not recommend this novel for those who can be triggered by certain content. Every time there was a twisted turn, I was genuinely shocked, and pitted poor Natsuki. Murata does a great job combining science-fiction into reality without making it unrealistic. It reflects moderns day society and the horrors many women have the face, but also the toxic expectations placed upon them because ‘it’s just is how it is.’ This trauma made Natsuki be frozen in time after the horrible events that happened when she was 11. Even though the reader sees Natsuki as 11 and 34, it felt that it was always 11-year-old Natsuki the reader was with.
Constantly feeling alienated led her to believe that she was an actual alien from the Popinpobopia — a childhood fantasy of hers. Soon her husband and Yuu join in her feeling like they too are from Ponpinpobopia — desperately trying to escape the world around them.
It is hard to honestly talk about this novel without nearly spoiling the whole book. It’s also a challenging novel to rate because while the story kept me transfixed I felt that I really wasn’t enjoying it. This partly due to the surreal horror and gore turn the novel took. It began as a novel discussing issues such as abuses, sex and society and how it affects individuals and then suddenly it took an unexpected twist.
While this is not a novel for the light-hearted, it does a great job getting the reader questioning what it means to be ‘normal and a useful member of society.’ But weary, since it is a bizarre read and the blurb is misleading since this book is very dark.
Thank you to Allen and Unwin for a finished copy of this book in exchange of an honest review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
Publisher: Allen and Unwin
Publication Date: 29 September 2020
RRP: $29.99 AUD
Personal Rating: 3.5/5