Naomi takes place in Japan in the early 1920s. One of the most interesting parts of the book was the Japanese fascination with all things ‘Western’; clothes, attitudes, dancing, and the idea of the “modern girl”. Naomi became obsessed with Westernizing herself, while Joji became obsessed with her.
I would say obsession is what this novel is really about. Joji’s obsession with Naomi became almost unbearable to read about. I cringed and felt humiliated on his behalf. Joji put everything he had, including his dignity and self-worth into Naomi’s demands and requests. As time went on, I felt more and more sorry for this poor guy who has put everything into keeping Naomi happy, and she ends up taking advantage of him over again and again, until he finally just succumbs. Is it even possible to be that obsessed with someone?
… most of her value to me lay in the fact that I’d brought her up myself, that I myself had made her into the woman she was, and that only I knew every part of her body. For me Naomi was the same as a fruit that I’d cultivated myself. I’d labored hard and spared no pains to bring that piece of fruit to its present, magnificent ripeness, and it was only proper that I, the cultivator, should be the one to taste it.
And, Naomi. I could criticize her for her selfishness and her deceit, but I could also ask myself what would it feel like to practically be owned by someone (even if that someone is a nice guy)? At first, she was kind of like his doll who he would bathe and dress in different outfits. She must have felt trapped rather than grateful, and resentful rather than loving. But, boy was she selfish. The clothes, the food, the lessons… all that money. I don’t know what to think of her. I think it’s safe to say, though, that, although we share a name, we are not very much alike. Maybe I would like to take dance lessons and eat out every night, but besides that (and our perfect beauty), we’re very different. No adult sleepovers for me!
She’d betrayed my expectations for her mind, but her body now surpassed my ideal. Stupid woman, I thought. Hopeless. Unhappily, the more I thought so, the more I found her beauty alluring. This was very unfortunate for me. Gradually I forgot my innocent notion of “training” her: I was the one being dragged along, and by the time I realized what was happening, there was nothing I could do about it.
Naomi was fun to read, but only until I got tired of the cyclic game Naomi and Joji were playing. I started to wonder when and how it was going to end. I also found Joji’s narration almost child-like in its simplicity. I wonder if his other books are written the same way. It certainly wasn’t what I was expecting.
Has anyone else read this or other books by Tanizaki? What other Japanese Literature have you read?