Before you read this post, please be aware of some trigger warnings that honestly need to be mentioned on the cover. This story has incidents pertaining to sexual assault, child abuse, incest, cannibalism, and a lot of misogyny.
I thought reading A Little Life was the hardest and saddest book of my life, but Earthlings takes it further by being extremely bizarre as well. Sayaka Murata became front and center on my “to read list” after reading Convenience Store Woman. It was such a unique, strange and engaging experience reading that book, that I knew I had to read other books by the author as well.
I saw an ARC available for Earthlings on NetGalley, and requested it immediately.
I held off on reading it for a few months and I don’t know if I regret doing that or now wish that I delayed it a bit more. Regardless, having read around 4 translated Japanese Fiction that were all weird and unique in their own way, including:
- Men without Women by Haruki Murakami
- Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami (no review for this)
- Convenience Store Women by Sayaka Murata
Earthlings by Sayaka Murata takes the first position for being the first book that made me want to throw up by the end of it.
If you could bear Hannibal then I am sure you’ll not feel queasy reading Earthlings, but if Cannibalism isn’t your thing, I suggest you skip this one. That said, Earthlings has a lot of symbolism about Society’s pressure to procreate for both women and men, and blaming women if they can’t conform or produce babies.
So what is Earthlings really about? Well let me tell you.
The story is about a young Natsuki who is on her way to her grandparent’s place in Akishima for the Obon festival during summer; which in Japanese Buddhist culture is celebrated each year to honor ancestors. Natsuki believes she has super powers given to her by a toy hedgehog called Piyyut who is from the planet Popinpobopia but she isn’t an alien.
Natsuki looks forward to the summer plans each year because she is close with her cousin Yuu, who is her boyfriend as well even though they are basically children. Regardless, Yuu believes he is an alien and Natsuki confirms this after talking to Piyyut. Her holidays are cut short when her sister falls ills and demands to be taken back to Chiba.
Once back, she goes back to Cram school and tries her best to study her so that she can become a grown up and a tool for the factory. The factory is an analogy for society where women and men are tools and come together to create babies.
She wants to survive and become a tool because at home her mother despises her. The same is the case for Yuu as well. However, at school, Natsuki is harassed by her teacher who is young and adored by all the students. There are countless encounters where Natsuki doesn’t know what to do while being molested and assaulted, even after confiding with her mother who ends up blaming her.
As the story of Earthlings progresses, we find out that Natsuki and her family return to Akishima because her grandfather dies. Over there, an incident happens between Natsuki and Yuu which angers all their relatives and Natsuki is placed under heavy surveillance and separated from Yuu.
Years later, we find out that Natsuki has married but her marriage condition is weird as her husband and Natsuki have a socially odd arrangement. They return to Akishima for holidays, as everyone is forcing them to produce children, and think the holiday will be a nice break.
Once they reach their grandparent’s house after 20 plus years, they meet Yuu and Earthlings becomes the most bizarre story you will ever read in your entire life.
In the beginning Earthlings seemed like a YA novel with easy language, and young Natsuki seeming naïve and in her head a lot. But as the story progressed, I couldn’t help but wonder how Natsuki tried to cope with the harshness of her life. Being treated terribly by her mother at home and harassed by a teacher at school, she obviously was cornered and isolated.
Her bestfriend Yuu was miles away and she only had Piyyut to confide in. There were instances of how her teacher would sexually harass her that made the hair on my arms rise. But little did I know that the most bizarre and weird storyline was yet to come. There is graphic detail of a sexual assault Natsuki went through, as well as the Cannibalism and I think everyone needs to mentally prepared for it.
Without ruining much of the plotline of Earthlings I really found the symbolism of the society as “Factory” and men and women as “tools” very clever. How everyone, once brainwashed by the society, require other to conform as well, and treats those who differ as outcasts or aliens. I am all about social critique in a clever way, but my goodness Earthlings does a number on you by taking things to the extreme.
It is such a short story but packs in so much, that I don’t think anyone would be able to guess what just hit them. That ending really made queasy in my stomach and I had to pause 3 times because of how vividly described the ending was. It still makes me cringe while thinking of it. And I think that is powerful writing, not sure if its good, but powerful nonetheless.
I am honestly at loss for words after reading Earthlings by Sayaka Murata.
I don’t hate it but I don’t think I like it either, but it is very weird and unique.
Does this mean I want to read more books by her? Absolutely.
Does this mean you should read Earthlings too? I honestly can’t say.
If shows like Dexter, Hannibal, and crime scenes are your type then Earthlings would be your jam as it has a touch of YA mixed with Sci-Fi.
But honest to God, Earthlings by Sayaka Murata is such a weird, engaging, bizarre story so please tread with caution.
Onto the basics:
- Rating: 3.5/5.0
- Reader level: very easy to read, but difficult to digest,
- Should you read it: I don’t know.
- Would I read it again: No way. Any other book by Sayaka Murata? Yes please.
Till next time,