地球星人 🌏 Book Club ・ Final Week

地球星人 ・ Week 16

Week 16 19 March 2022
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Vocab Sheet

Anybody should feel free to add to the vocab sheet. Read the guidelines on the first sheet- even if a word is not yet included you can use the spreadsheet as a tool to get help.

Spoiler Courtesy

Please follow these rules to avoid inadvertent ネタバレ. If you’re unsure whether something should have a spoiler tag, err on the side of using one.

  1. Any potential spoiler for the current week’s reading need only be covered by a spoiler tag. Predictions and conjecture made by somebody who has not read ahead still falls into this category.
  2. Any potential spoilers for external sources need to be covered by a spoiler tag and include a label (outside of the spoiler tag) of what might be spoiled. These include but are not limited to: other book club picks, other books, games, movies, anime, etc. I recommend also tagging the severity of the spoiler (for example, I may still look at minor spoilers for something that I don’t intend to read soon).
  3. Any information from later in the book than the current week’s reading (including trigger warnings that haven’t yet manifested) need to be hidden by spoiler tags and labeled as such.

Discussion Questions

Feel free to use these questions as a framework or a starting point for responses. I also encourage people to post their own discussion questions!

  1. What sentence/passage gave you the most difficulty? Feel free to request some help, or if you figured it out on your own break it down for the rest of us!

  2. What was your favorite new vocab word from this week’s reading?

  3. Was there any passage that you found particularly intriguing? Did it resonate with you (either positively or negatively)? Was it surprising? Offer any insight or new perspective? Was it just beautifully written?

  4. What do you think of the ending? Does the decay into absurdism trivialize the rest of the book, or does it strengthen and/or alter some of the themes?

  5. Does 地球星人 break the mold of the “Trauma Plot”? Why or why not? (See
    @AmomentOfMusic’s week 5 comment)

  6. [コンビニ人間 Spoilers] 地球星人 and コンビニ人間 address many of the same themes regarding gender, relationships, societal expectations, etc. How does Murata’s treatment of similar topics differ in each book? Is either book “better” at conveying its message? Considering that many of Murata’s books address the same topics, is there value in reading more?

  7. In what ways has this book affected you personally? Has it altered your behavior or way of viewing the world?

  8. Write a discussion question that you would be interested in hearing somebody respond to.

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Just… wow. I knew it was going to happen, but then when it did it was still… wow! Murata is really a pro at dark humour. Two of my favourite parts: (while slaughtering Igasaki’s parents)「おいしそうだね」and 男の入った味噌汁と、男と大根の葉の炒め物と、男を茹でて甘辛醬油で煮たものと、三種類の男料理ができあがった。

This part seemed really significant: 私は男の入った味噌汁を啜って驚いた。「味がする!」Murata really led up to this moment of transformation. Natsukichan herself realised that cannibalism was a liminal deed that would definitively make her ‘unhuman’. When it was first discussed, she knew it would be impossible to be accepted by humans again (私は頷いたが、それをしたら、私たちはもう「地球星人」の仲間には入れてもらえないんじゃないだろうか、とどこかで思っていた。) and the thought of slaughtering the humans was so off-putting to her that she wondered if she might still be partially human (私は部屋で蹲っていた。私のなかに、まだ「人間」が残っているのかもしれなかった。). The fact that she regains her sense of taste when she does finally partake in the cannibalism is ‘proof’ of her transformation. I also love how metal it is that only the flesh of Igasaki’s parents can cleanse away his crime against her :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye: Though it doesn’t really fit with her ear, which only comes back to life when she eats Tomoya and Yuu.

I did get a bit confused when we got to the mutual cannibalism part… Am I to understand that they actually tore into each other…? And while being mangled were still making cheerful conversation? And that they somehow also found the time to knit pillows and stuffed toys out of human hair, no less? I guess this touches upon question 4. The ending of the book required a lot of suspension of disbelief, but I was totally there for it all the same.

[General Murata remark] I feel like the descent into pure bathos is kind of Murata’s trademark way to end a story :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:

It was all very this.

By the way, I was happy to see that the silkworms really did turn out to have a deeper meaning! :grin:

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Well, I’m glad I finished the book earlier than scheduled, as I really needed some time in order to digest it all.

I knew next to nothing about the book when I started reading, and it kept surprising me at every turn, taking directions I hadn’t anticipated, all the way to its grotesque finale. Apart from the obvious themes of family, sex, the perceived roles of women, society and fitting in, I think what this book was mainly about was free will - is free will even possible within the bounds of society? Or even outside it? Are our three protagonists finally free at the end, or are their thoughts and actions still determined by their environment, both in trying to actively go against everything society asks of them, and in trying to follow their own rules and fit in in the new small society they created? The fact that Natsuki got her lost senses back when she decided to leave the human race behind for good by consuming human flesh (the ultimate taboo) seems to imply that she was finally free. It seems that Tomoomi, in wanting to do something taboo in order to “escape”, was on the right track after all. But sexual abuse, incest, even murder, all occur frequently in human society, as Natsuki observed - adults just turn a blind eye. They had to go even further than that. There was something almost poetic in that liberating bloodbath. But if that’s what freedom looks like, I’m sure we would all agree that we had better just try and get along. Society in this book is depicted as really oppressive and unforgiving, and often it is, but in my view escape is usually possible while still staying within it’s limits. Society is just people after all, it’s made up of us all. Surrounding yourself with different people, maybe in a different place, is often all it takes to escape absurd societal pressures. The world is wider than New Town and Akishina, and I’ve been wanting to tell Natsuki that for the whole book.

I’d like to focus on something else though: I always appreciate books that gently lead the reader along a path, at the end of which the reader realizes that they’ve arrived somewhere they’d never go by their own free will (free will again!). A reader naturally sides with the narrator in a first-person book, and this is of course not the first book that exploits this to take the reader to uncomfortable places. It’s so gradual, we almost don’t realize what’s happening. We side with Natsuki throughout, and her decisions seem, if not rational, at least justifiable, every step of the way. At first her fantasies are a cute, and perfectly reasonable way of coping when she’s not allowed to enjoy summer with her cousin. Then we completely understand when she cuts ties with parts of her body after the abuse, and are of course outraged on her behalf. When she murders, we are still with her - there was no support from anywhere, and she didn’t even realize what she was doing. We even allow ourselves to feel relieved - the monster is gone. Again we excuse her magic and alien fantasies - how is a child supposed to cope with any of this? When Natsuki with her husband and Yuu decide to go away and live as “aliens”, we can understand why they do this. Their environment has been nothing but horrible to them - the reader would want to leave all that behind too, no doubt. We shrug off their minor stealing - it’s nothing compared to what has already happened, and they need to feed themselves somehow. Then Natsuki murders again, and we still explain it away. She was attacked in the night, she was acting out of self-defence. Those people were out to get her, plus they had nothing left to live for but their grief. Immediately external circumstances like a landslide and being snow-bound make us forget thoughts about police involvement or whatever. Our protagonists are left without means of feeding themselves, and they have two dead bodies available. Cannibalism almost seems “rational”, as they like to put it. We are with them every step of the way in this journey, even if we often found ourselves feeling uncomfortable. It’s only when people appear (and we see the scene through their eyes) that it hits us how far they (we) have transgressed. The rescue team’s eyes are familiar, they’re the eyes of society. But Natsuki’s eyes are familiar too, because we had been sharing her thoughts all the way to this. We’ve been gradually taken way out of our comfort zone. How easy would it be for any one of us, step by small step, to end up in a similar situation? The end result seems outrageous, but the way there felt justifiable, even natural. Well done Murata for doing that to us.

This whole scene feels so drunken that it’s hard to have a clear idea of what exactly is going on. I think that they just sort of gently nibbled at each other at first, tasting each other’s skin, then they got carried away by this almost sexual act, and started being increasingly passionate, biting and sucking and probably breaking skin, but my impression is there was nothing more than that. What surprised me more was the scene as described in the morning. I had something much tamer in mind - the way they had prepared the meat felt very civilized, yet suddenly there were whole fingers and legs scattered around. I’m pretty sure there was no pillow or stuffed toy, these were just (unknitted) human remains that took other forms in Natsuki’s eyes. Talk about gruesome.

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I finished 地球星人 already some time ago, and I wrote this excerpt back then already. Here are my thoughts hot off the press :blush:

Many many spoilers and story details ahead

I really loved the first two chapters where all of the world is being unfolded in front of our eyes in slow motion (or maybe it just felt like that because I cannot read Japanese that fast? :upside_down_face:), and it’s getting worse and worse and worse: The struggles Natsuki has with her family, the struggles Yuu has with his mother, how her mother abuses her physically and mentally, how his mother abuses him sexually, and when you think this is really bad now, they plan to not go visit the grandparents next Obon, but then they go to the funeral, and how everybody freaks out once they got caught in the act, and how she gets locked away in the storage house and gets put under surveillance 24/7, and when you think this is the worst now, her teacher goes ahead and rapes her. Wow! I was super-impressed how Murata could form such a concise picture of personal devastation and of being an outcast in such a short part of the book. I was thrilled to know how this would end…

And then. We jump forward 23 years, and I somehow did not manage to keep up my interest across that jump. Maybe [spoiler for 殺人出産] because many of the topics that came up were not new; Murata already experimented with ideas of triple sex, serving society through breeding and other things in other short stories, and it felt like she just took bits and pieces of those short stories and plugged them into this longer novel. Or maybe because I personally experienced some of these experimental forms of living already (or know people who did), so they are not new and shocking to me or anything. (Well, not the cannibalism part, in case you wonder :sweat_smile:)

So, bottom line, I totally loved the opening, but everything after that was ok but not really to my liking. What really confuses me is why Murata is taking everything to these extremes. I mean, sure, she wants to criticize the existing society, and I agree with her that there is lots that needs being criticized. (The whole story part around Natsuki and her husband and how society reacts to them is a very good example.) But why does she paint the alternatives in such extreme colours that in the end neither option feels anywhere near being attractive (or even interesting) to (at least) me? Is the whole purpose of her dystopian writing one of destroying and alienating (!) people from any idea of living that’s worth pursuing? That makes me very very sad. Maybe it’s just because I’m reading this in the current times, which already expose more and more of these destructive forces? Maybe I just wish for more healing and pacifying, for showing more alternatives and accepting them in parallel instead of destroying them…

On top of that, questions remain :sweat_smile:

  • When Natsuki killed her teacher, she doesn’t seem to be aware what she is doing (she only talks about the teacher not being there, and a golden liquid coming out of the white shape she is attacking). But later, when she talks to her sister about it, and also when she talks about Yuu and her husband about it, she understands that she killed him. When did that realization happen?
  • Natsuki seems to have had serious mental health issues (hallucinations, this “bad witch” thing, etc). I guess this happened because of her brain trying to protect her from the reality that her teacher is actually abusing her. But when did it stop? She seemed to still believe for a long time that she killed the witch and not the teacher.
  • Who told Kise’s husband about Kise’s past? Natsuki did not seem to know anything about it, so who was it, and why?
  • The last scene confused me quite a bit. How much time passed between them killing the teacher’s parents and that scene? It was winter, but I think at least a year must have passed. They made the pillow and the new Pyuuto out of human hair, which means they probably killed more humans (so they would have the hair, and in different colors) and spent time making these things. Also, they developed their own language and got these huge bellies, and built a spaceship? This isn’t something that happens in a week or two, is my guess?
  • Was Natsuki in fact pregnant? (That wouldn’t surprise me at all and would also speak in favor of a longer timespan.) But what about the guys’ bellies?
  • If it was such a long time, why did nobody check on the house in the meantime? They must have used water and electricity (for the freezer) and gas (for cooking) in the meantime - who covered the bills? Why did nobody notice those expenses? Why did nobody notice that people disappeared?
  • What happened to their flat in the city? Did they keep paying for the rent? Did they get thrown out?

There are probably more questions but this is it for a start :sweat_smile:

I think a lot of time passes in between (see my long comment above). At first they seem to take good care of the house, as it seems, but when they eat human meat for the first time, we get a glimpse of the start of a downward spiral when somebody topples over a half-full plate and just picks up some of the spilled food but doesn’t really clean up afterwards. When you extrapolate from there, it’s no surprise that they end up having bones and limbs and food lying around… (Also one member of the rescue party started throwing up and couldn’t stop, so I guess it must have been a much much more horrible sight than what they could produce in just one night…)

I really like your observations! It’s indeed interesting how she takes us along for the ride and gradually makes us accept all these things, because we can see the “good reasons” for them.

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That’s an interesting take, but I still think it’s the very next morning. First of all, in terms of writing, it being the next day adds a very delicious sense of irony: their rationale for eating the bodies was that they would be snowed in for the winter and would have nothing else to survive on - then help arrives on the very next day but it’s already way too late. Now as for actual evidence, we know that Kise knows they’re up there because she sent Igasaki’s parents. I guess she worried about what might have happened when she didn’t hear from them or her sister, and because of the snow she thought they might need rescuing, which explains the whole rescue team. The rescue wouldn’t make sense if a whole year had passed. The extended bellies were probably because they were surviving on stolen vegetables before, and suddenly they ate a whole man, possibly the woman too. The mess was created by the meat preparation. They initially seemed to me that they were doing it by the book, draining the blood, cutting up fillets, but we are never told what they did with the rest. Apparently they left it all lying around on the floor. The “pillow” was I think a human head resting on its hair. Some more tangled hair took the shape of Pyuuto in Natsuki’s fevered mind. They were children playing house - they described it to themselves as proper cooking, but it was just a (literally) bloody mess.

I think it was always there. At that very night I think it was, she tries to ask Pyuuto about it, but gets a vague answer about being an alien. Since we know that Pyuuto was just a toy, we can assume that she herself just put a stop to that line of thinking. Growing up, she probably just put it aside, never thinking too much about it (in case she let herself discover the truth). When Kise tells her about it in that private talk, she still hasn’t accepted it, but I think that talk makes her revisit those memories. After that, she gradually lets herself realize what happened. She is only completely sure after killing the parents too, I believe.

Something I forgot to write before (as if my post wasn’t long enough already!): Tomoomi at one point suggests that we are all aliens, but were brainwashed to be humans when we “came to live on Earth”. I love how right he is, while also being so wrong. His “alien” lifestyle is as close to being a savage as he can manage (while still making use of civilization’s conveniences, like a roof over his head, and a smartphone to look up butchering techniques), and of course humans were savage once, but, flawed as civilization and organized society may be, it’s funny how he thinks the opposite would be preferable.

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Was there an actual space ship? I thought that was a kind of metaphorical way to describe the house that they made their home (and that became a pretty important factor in regards to their alien-ness - so much of that… development happened there). Like a contrast to the ‘earthling planet’/outside world they stepped out into in the last paragraph (even though the house is obviously technically part of that same planet)

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That was exactly my understanding as well :slight_smile:

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After finishing the book in Japanese, I quickly read through the English edition as well and I’m glad that I did because it reminded me of the things that I liked about this book. The first chapters were great, of course, with lots of atmospheric passages. I also really like the characters of Natsuki, Yuu and Tomoomi. Uncle Teruyoshi was also great (for the small part that he played) and even Kise was pretty good as the ‘evil sister’.

I didn’t like the ending, though, the characters changed their behaviour in a way that I didn’t like (as if they turned into stupid children) and to me it comes across as if Murata just unnecessarily exaggerated the violence for shock-value. In other words, I thought it was a pretty great book, but the last act just wasn’t for me.

When Natsuki, Yuu and Tomoomi were together in the house for the first time, I wrote that I found that to be a brilliant move by Murata, but the book didn’t quite deliver on what I was hoping for. There were some nice scenes in that earlier chapter with Yuu and Tomoomi chumming together and about the uneasiness between Natsuki and Yuu, but I feel there were deeper depths to plumb there. The last chapter just took it into a completely different direction.

It was to be expected that the killing of Igasaki would come back to haunt Natsuki, but here too I feel that the book doesn’t quite deliver. Igasaki’s parents just show up and get killed, it is revealed that they got their information from Kise and suddenly that whole storyline is over in a few pages. I think we could have gotten more out of that storyline if Natsuki more gradually learns that Igasaki’s parents are starting to suspect her and she has to wonder over a longer period where they got their information from.

I guess I am sort of with you @NicoleRauch. For me the moment came later because I did like the time jump (as I wrote then) and I liked a lot of the scenes with Tomoomi, but near the end I got the same feeling as you about Murata taking it all too far.

I read those parts as delusions, but I’m still not sure if Murata actually intended them that way or if she wanted to add some final hints of something supernatural going on (I’m still finding the bellies hard to explain) or if we are simply misunderstanding what she means. I agree on the suspension of disbelief (and for me it went a step too far in that regard).

Sorry, but I don’t feel that way at all. It’s true that the book took me along for a large part of the way. Natsuki killing Igasaki was already a bit of a stretch for me, but I was willing to forgive that because Natsuki was a child and this seemed pretty much the only way for her to avoid further abuse. The book lost me at the end, though, and I stopped identifying with the characters. Their behaviour, the stealing and the violence was in no way justifiable or natural in my eyes.

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Ah, that makes a lot more sense wrt the timeline :sweat_smile: Clarifies a bunch of my questions.

Yaa, in that case I understand why the rescue person got so sick…

Well, I don’t believe there was a real spaceship, of course. But I don’t really believe it’s their house, either, as they said they went outside and walked towards the spaceship? Initially I thought they maybe constructed something out of wood and stuff, but if it’s really only the next day, maybe they just imagine the garden shed to be the spaceship? (You know, the shed in front of which she ate the sunflower seeds with Yuu…) See the following post where this gets set straight :grin:

That definitely happened to me too. The expression “I alienated myself from them” comes to mind… :laughing:

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Exactly, and that’s why I wrote that the book kept surprising me. The story could have taken any number of different directions, many of which would have been very interesting to explore, but ultimately, this was the story that the writer wanted to tell.

I reread that sentence. It goes: 「明るいとき」の光が、雪の反射と共に、外の世界から私たちの宇宙船へと柔らかく差し込んでいた。Unless I misunderstand, it talks about the daylight shining into their spaceship from the outside world. After that they step out. I have seen no mention of them walking towards the spaceship.

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Oh yes, you are totally right! I guess that when Yuu talked about going out, the subsequent 私たちの宇宙船へ somehow made my brain take a detour :rofl: Thanks for setting this straight.

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Alright, some thoughts after I had a chance to let things sink in and get some sleep:

That was… some ending.
I gotta say that I didn’t really enjoy reading this last part much anymore. That whole cannibalism part was really quite long and descriptive. I feel like the point was made pretty early on, at some point I just wanted to move on/be done with it. I remember watching some movie a couple years back that had a similarly absurd and brutal ending (kind of a similar vibe to this one, IMO - no cannibalism though). I felt kind of meh about that ending - not necessarily because it was bad, more in a ‘yeah, this is not for me’ way. It was the same here. I think I just don’t do well with these extreme/absurd kind of endings. I just can’t take them seriously and then never know what to make of it.

Yeah, it’s the same for me.
I already thought the murder was offputting - maybe you can use it as a justification that it was self defense or whatever, but there were three of them, it’s unlikely the father would have been able to kill anyone - and it doesn’t explain the pretty intense violence that went a good bit beyond ‘defense’, as seen by Yuu’s comment about 挽肉. While that line was pretty funny, it’s also… pretty concerning. :laughing:
And then the cannibalism part just completely lost me. If the interpretation of not much time having passed yet is correct (and I understood it that way, too) then there wasn’t even a necessity for it yet, from a survival standpoint.

Nicely said :slightly_smiling_face:



As for the book as a whole -

- I think it’s pretty safe to say that it’s very unlike the stuff I usually read. :smiley: I appreciate it for that. I liked how it deals with some interesting ideas/themes, even if they were often taken to an extreme. There were also definitely many turns I didn’t see coming.
Like some others here I enjoyed the first maybe ~half more, though. After that it kind of went back and forth between passages I found interesting and enjoyable and some that were less so or that I felt were a bit slow (though I’m sure my slower reading speed as a result of reading in Japanese played a role here.) There were overall also, of course, some parts that were straight up uncomfortable to read, but I suppose that was the point.

So, mixed feelings overall. I’m really glad I had the book club to refer to instead of reading on my own, I enjoyed reading everyone’s thoughts after each section. :slightly_smiling_face:

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What a great section for reviewing body part vocabulary.

Wow, I really liked this book. I think the pacing was good, and it was a very straight forward read, at least as far the the Japanese was concerned. This having been my first Murata read, I was surprised to see the twists and turns it took–in story, tone, and even genre. The first part felt like a serious drama about abuse and coping, but it quickly turned into something more like a dark comedy, I think. It wasn’t realistic at that point, but I don’t think it was trying to be. I liked both parts.

Spoiler Talk

I don’t think there was any moral pontificating here, and I don’t think that Murata was trying to say, necessarily, that this is how we should live: by rejecting society, doing the opposite of what they say, and, um, eating each other. There’s a very insightful quote from Murata in this article:

“…I want to use the form of the novel to conduct experiments. In a novel, I can test things that are not possible in the real world, in the hope that something new could emerge from the chemical reaction and teach me something I could never learn from normal life. This has driven me since I was a child and now I feel it all the more strongly. I want to write something unrealistic . . . because I think I can find real truth in it.”

I think the experiment is something along the lines of what happens if society won’t allow people to deviate from social norms at all. While many of us are lucky to not have been in such a situation, there are definitely those of who have been. And while it’s easy to sit in the back seat and give advice to people on how to escape the pressures of society, whether due or undue, it’s not necessarily easy or even possible for people in those situations to escape it. It was interesting that Murata felt the need to sever our trio from society with trauma and abuse. In week 5, @AmomentOfMusic brought up some of the criticism on “trauma in fiction.” At the time it felt different, but looking back on it I wonder if the criticism may be warranted. People don’t need trauma to be disconnected from society, and while I guess it allows us to hop on board with Natsuki and feel like all her actions are justified as @omk3 points out, it almost seems like those first chapters serve only that purpose–to justify her actions. But there are so many other ways that people become disconnected from society–the color of their skin, LGBTQ, disabilities, etc, etc. And there are times and places where that disconnect is inescapable. And I think Murata finds here, when the pressure is inescapable it leads to a metamorphosis–to extreme behavior. Fortunately here they find a happy ending (I guess) where they can feel free in their extreme behavior, but in real life I don’t think it’s often a happy ending. The story of Alan Turing comes to mind…

I think the concept of looking at society and humanity through alien eyes isn’t to say that we should return to our animalistic roots, but rather that we should take an unbiased look at what we think of as social norms, their logic, the ways we enforce them, and the effect that that enforcement has on others. I’m very fortunate to not have been abused in any significant way in my life, but as a “creative type” I am always sensitive to those expectations, where those who are expectant are often not even aware of what they’re doing. I’ve already mentioned my empathizing with the child factory pressure, but there are so many other things that, taken individually don’t seem of consequence, but really stack up. There are expectations with my position at work that I should own a house, and what the size of the house should be, which sports I should like, what I should do and like because I’m a “man.” People think it’s strange that I bike to work, that I don’t mind getting wet in the rain, that I wear pink and rainbow colors, that I surround myself with the weirdos and the creeps. I recall in my college days being asked to bring beer to my older sister’s party. I picked up a case of beer in cans because I’m kind of a beer snob and I’m convinced that cans maintain the freshness of beer better. But I was scolded because my sister’s friends “are adults, and we drink from bottles.” I made the mistake of applying logic where the rules were defined by social norms–for making a logical decision as seen through alien eyes.

Society isn’t necessarily good or evil, but it does produce social forces that act on individuals. And while many of us are well adjusted and can stand up to it, it’s not so hard to be crushed. I think it’s important to be mindful of the expectations we put on ourselves and others, and to try and judge people not only through the lens that society has instilled in us, but also from a place of logic. Certainly society is not without value, but neither is it without mistakes.

Oh, and this is amazing.

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Thank you for the Murata quote and your whole insightful post. It really resonated with me. I too felt that Natsuki’s backstory was just a way for her development to feel justified, while the author’s real purpose was to conduct an experiment, putting her subjects under extreme pressure and then taking their reactions to extreme, uncharted territories. Love how you used the world “metamorphosis” too - this is exactly what Murata was getting at with the constant silkworm mentions (and I’m now picturing tiny cannibal butterflies emerging from their cocoons, unfolding their beautiful wings, and proceeding to devour each other :rofl:). I very much identify with “alien eyes” as you describe them, and have looked at society through them ever since childhood, again without -thankfully- any kind of abuse to affect that. Many societal norms continue to seem odd to me, and I do tend to be the odd one out in social settings, but like most people I’ve never been tempted to do anything with that other than maybe use it creatively. (That said, your beer incident was just absurd - are beer cans supposed to be targeted at teenagers only? :joy: Apart from society at large, there are certainly very weird rules that seem impossible to predict and follow in smaller societal sub-groups - a source of constant anxiety for the “aliens” of us).

These were my thoughts word-for-word as I was reading the chapter. :grin:

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Finished yesterday. Regarding the ending
I feel similar to most people here, I think. It was rather absurd and felt somewhat out of place at first but the quote really helped and gave a new view on it and I think it kind of fit after all. At least it felt like it ‘naturally’ progressed to that point. I didn’t feel like suddenly there was a cut and it turned from 0 to 100, it was a gradual change even though it accelerated quite a bit toward the end.
I definitely didn’t expect it to turn into this at all though. Especially the beginning and first half really felt a lot different. And something a bit new from Murata although some of the more absurd things have had some space in some of the earlier short stories but seeing it all come together like this was a nice change and felt different to her novel. I think we’ve only read Konbini Ningen so far and all others were short stories?

Anyways, it was a great read and I enjoyed it a lot. :slight_smile:

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I’m glad I held off on writing my response for a few days: mostly because, right after finishing the book, I had no idea how to feel. I reread the last couple pages a few times to make sure I understood the ending “correctly.” (Just vocabulary-wise; I still don’t know if I fully “get it.”) But also, as always, reading everyone’s responses helped me to shape my thoughts.

I find myself understanding both sides of the debate. Looking back, I do agree with @NicoleRauch that the parts Murata wrote about Natsuki’s childhood were so good and compelling; part of me wishes we spent the majority of time with child Natsuki, maybe watching her slowly grow up. On the other hand, I have no idea what that book would look like: would doing so just lead to more “trauma porn,” to bring back the idea of the trauma plot from Week 5? Maybe. Should there have been a smaller time skip in between? That might’ve worked, but then again I do think the look back at her high school and college experiences that Murata wrote are enough for us to get the gist of why she ended up as the adult she is. Ultimately, though jarring at first, I didn’t mind time skip. There were plenty of moments after that point that made me want to continue reading.

The quote from Murata that @maskedkoala posted also helped solidify one of my thoughts on the book: it’s a story about being pushed to extremes. The people in Natsuki’s life don’t really live in any kind of middle ground: as a child, she’s prepared for her mother and sister to throw vitriol toward her, for her teacher to do something creepy toward her; her father’s not much of a presence, though of course after the nighttime excursion with Yuu, he also goes to extremes to “control” her behavior. Growing up, she tries confiding in those she’s close with who are outside of her childhood circle, and is met with abandonment and dismissiveness (after being given a taste of short-lived sympathy). As an adult, she’s pushed by people who all want something for her that she isn’t remotely interested in: marriage and children. She tries to please them by getting married, though on her own terms, and learns that isn’t enough. Thirty-two years of doing things “wrong” and not being enough for the people you’re closest with is a lot to deal with. Yuu tries to be a middle-ground character, but he ultimately transforms into an extreme type of character, proposing they all take things back to basics and think “logically.” Her husband is completely on board with this, and Natsuki goes along with it, too. Add to that the looming pressure of her previous environment coming from her sister, and the extreme elements in Natsuki’s life only seem to increase.

There are a few moments, though, that hint that Natsuki’s not quite the same: when she wants to continue talking about the conditions for having sex in the bath; when she confesses to herself that she might be in love; and when, right before they cut up Igasaki’s parents for food, she thinks that there might be a bit of earthling left in her. I think these are the moments when she’s most honest with herself (along with when she finally confesses to murdering her teacher). And yet, she doesn’t quite voice them: she remains quiet during the bath scene for the most part, not pushing her topic too far. She never tells Yuu or her husband her feelings of both attraction and fear. In this new, extreme environment, she once again pushes her own feelings aside and goes along with the majority, who both happen to be male. Granted, it’s these extreme circumstances that lead to her mouth and ear being “fixed,” but why is that? Does eating Igasaki’s parents bring a kind of closure for her? Does engaging in a kind of sexual tasting of the two men allow her to release some of her complicated feelings surround sex? I’m not sure.

The ending is the most confusing part of the whole story. How much is a dream and how much is real? @omk3 had a great interpretation of the scene, and the more I thought about it, the more I on board with it I became. (I think the swollen bellies are because they’ve for the most part been starving, at least compared to how they ate before their training. It reminded me of photos I’ve seen of starving children, where you can see their ribs showing while they still have bellies.) I think the ending is Natsuki finally breaking down mentally. In the same room, she’s met with the extremes of her former life (mother and sister are present) and the extremes of the life she’s been living. To be frank, though her ear and mouth were “fixed,” I wouldn’t be surprised if that scene alludes to the idea that her eyes are now “broken,” much like when she was looking for the “witch” as a child. Do Yuu and her husband actually think they’re pregnant, or is that in Natsuki’s head? It’s hard to say. I think the final sentence of them leaving the house and going into the forest with their “rescuers” voices echoing behind them can have two meanings: the first is that those three have completely left “earthling” life behind them (for how on earth could they be accepted back into society with all they’ve done), and the second is that “earthling” life is still following after them (the echoes of the voices shake the forest and spread throughout it).

I think I did end up enjoying the novel in the end. I don’t know where it sits for me in terms of Murata’s other work, but I think it was an interesting exploration of how people can alienate others to the point of mental anguish.

There was an article about Murata that was posted a while ago in the Sayaka Murata Book Club, but it had spoilers for this book in it, so I never read it. I’ll link it below (though it has spoilers for コンビニ人間」); however, there’s a quote from it I’d like to share:

Murata says she starts with her characters and doesn’t know the ending of her novels until she writes them. That might explain why Earthlings turns from whimsy to surrealist horror. Its final act puts the three main characters – Natsuki, her first love, Yuu, and her fake husband - together in the mountainous Nagano countryside where their rejection of the “factory” becomes complete. Convinced they are aliens at war with the factory’s emissaries, they resort to murder and cannibalism. Munching on an “Earthling”, Natsuki finally recovers the sense of taste she lost as a result of the abuse. “I felt as though I was eating for the first time in twenty-three years.” Murata says she didn’t set out to write a shocking book but her subconscious invaded the pages. “The people who know me through Convenience Store Woman are disappointed. But I was a cult writer before that success. People are saying the old Murata has returned.”

The full article can be read here.

Thank you so much to everyone who participated and posted their thoughts/interpretations. Though I enjoy reading, my favorite part is being able to discuss the things I read, and you all made this a fruitful experience (it’s not a shock that the only books I’ve fully finished so far are book club books). I hope to participate in another book club with you all soon! :smiling_face_with_three_hearts:

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I think the ending is intentionally left completely open. As far as I understand, the three “aliens” step out of their “spaceship” and into the dazzling light, and the cries of the humans echo across the earh and shake the forest. I dont think it’s implied that the cries are behind them, or that they actually went into the forest. I dont know if the rescue team can try and arrest them, or if they will have to call the police for that. We dont know what the “aliens” will want to do either. Attack the humans? Leave them behind and go into the forest as you say? Comply with whatever the humans ask of them? I suppose anything that happens from here on would only be anticlimactic, and there was no need for the story to continue past this point.

I agree so much! I love reading, but discussions here add a whole other level to reading enjoyment. Everyone’s perspective is different, so reading everyone’s thoughts is like being given the chance to briefly look through someone else’s eyes (which is exactly what reading fiction is all about, after all). :grinning:

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