My Prior Posts on Kenzaburo Oe
As I started to read The Changeling I hoped so much I would find it to me a great work worthy to perhaps be the final work of a great writer. I thought what will I do if instead it is a major disappointment like 1Q84 was? I do not think I could bring myself to saying anything negative about a writer I love as much as Oe and I am glad to say that The Changeling is a great masterwork. It deals with many of the same themes as his other works and like many of them is based on his own life experiences.
Oe's brother-in-law was a very successful film director. In 1997 he committed suicide through jumping out of a window. The book is about the narrator's attempt to come to terms with the death of a close friend of his, a very well known movie, director, by suicide. The friend has left behind a series of audio tapes for the narrator, called Kogito. Kogito is a world famous author with a son with a birth defect limiting his mental capacities who nevertheless become a composer, just like Oe. Kogito becomes obsessed with trying to understand why his brother-in-law, the proverbial man with everything, decided to end his own life. The book is essentially a series of reactions to the tapes. Oe is as deep a writer as one will find and the book reflects this in the thoughts of the narrator.
As I read this work there was something that did make me wonder a bit about why it was in the book. Just as some people were put off a bit by 1Q84's inclusion of extensive descriptions of the body of a 17 year old female and descriptions of sex with her by a much older man there is a section of very graphic very erotic explicit descriptions of the movie director, in his late 50s, having a limited sexual encounter with a 17 year old girl. Some things are subject to cultural relativism and the age of consent in Japan is lower than in the USA or the Philippines so perhaps this is socially acceptable behavior but to me it made the movie director seem, foolish, predatory, perverted, and a bit evil. No reflections like this are made by the narrator who, if he reflects Oe's age, is in his 70s. Are beautiful young girls just another perk of being a movie director, am I overreacting because I have three teenage daughters or is there another meaning to all this? Or does sex simply sell books? I will say it is better done than the sex in 1Q84.
I do not recommend this as a first Oe. For those into his work, I for sure endorse it. I actually would suggest that all of his work be read in order written. To me there is no bad Oe!