Natsuki isn’t like the other girls. She has a wand and a transformation mirror. She might be a witch, or an alien from another planet. Together with her cousin Yuu, Natsuki spends her summers in the wild mountains of Nagano, dreaming of other worlds. When a terrible sequence of events threatens to part the two children forever, they make a promise: survive, no matter what. Now Natsuki is grown. She lives a quiet life with her asexual husband, surviving as best she can by pretending to be normal. But the demands of Natsuki’s family are increasing, her friends wonder why she’s still not pregnant, and dark shadows from Natsuki’s childhood are pursuing her. Fleeing the suburbs for the mountains of her childhood, Natsuki prepares herself with a reunion with Yuu. Will he still remember their promise? And will he help her keep it?
Having devoured Convenience Store Woman in one sitting and thoroughly enjoying it, I knew that I had to buy Earthlings when I saw it sitting on a display table in Waterstones a couple of weeks back. I will be honest and say that I didn’t read the blurb before I bought it, which goes to show just how much I loved Convenience Store Woman. I trusted Sayaka Murata to have written a book that I’d enjoy, so reading the blurb seemed kind of pointless. Regardless of what was written on Earthlings’ back cover, it was leaving the store with me.
Like Convenience Store Woman, Earthlings revolves around a woman who doesn’t meet society’s expectations of her. Natsuki, a woman in her early thirties, is in an asexual marriage of convenience solely for the purpose of getting people like her mother and sister off her case. She has no interest in pursuing romantic relationships and she feels no need to have children. These life choices are at odds with the choices of those around her, though, and the pressure exerted on her to do these things makes her feel as though she’s something other, something alien, and this is a feeling that’s existed since her childhood.
For me, Earthlings is a lot more complex than Convenience Store Woman. I saw the latter as being a quietly inspiring novel about giving the middle finger to society’s expectations and living your life however you want to, even if that life might be seen as unfulfilling by others. Earthlings, however, explores how childhood trauma and abuse can affect people as adults. Some of the choices that Natsuki makes as an adult are directly influenced by the experiences that she had as a child and the things that she was taught by people such as her mother. While she was growing up, it was drilled into her by her mother that she was useless and part of the reason why Natsuki gets married is because she doesn’t want to be seen as being a useless member of society.
Earthlings is an uncomfortable read in places. It’s dark, it’s harrowing and it’s heart wrenching. But I still enjoyed it (but perhaps enjoy isn’t the right word).
Damn, though. That ending took me completely by surprise. I finished the book while sitting out on my balcony. I closed it, wandered into the flat, looked at my boyfriend with wide eyes and asked, “What the fuck did I just read?”
Finally, I found this great article about Sayaka Murata. Definitely worth a read.
Have you read Earthlings or any of Sayaka Murata’s other books? Let me know in the comments!