Thursday, September 11, 2008

On "The Key" by Junichiro Tanizaki *****

I first read this book in 1994, for the one meeting I attended of a world literature book club before moving from California. Rereading it fourteen years later was every bit as enjoyable. In The Key one has the makings of the quintessential Japanese novel, at least according to another author, who told me that the Japanese are just plain strange--cherry blossoms and weird, kinky stuff we don't want to admit to thinking about. Tanizaki's book is about a husband and wife who keep diaries of their sexual exploits. The diaries are secret--in theory at least--but in reality they are meant for the consumption of each other. Here you have this older middle-aged couple who, because of their secret writings, are just as much in lust with each other as one would expect of twenty-something newly marrieds. And in that sense, I adore this book.

Where it gets strange, however, is in the husband's goding his wife into an affair and his wife's reaction. One could say, be careful what you wish for. I'm thinking of the Inman diaries in particular, where Arthur Inman encouraged a close friendship between his wife and his doctor and was then enraged when he found out years later that the two were carrying on an affair--this despite the fact that Inman himself had had numerous affairs and at least in part encouraged his wife to go out with the doctor in an effort to further his untoward relationships. In Tanizaki's book, however, whatever jealousy exists merely seems to be more fodder for lust. But the consequences are still dire, just not in the manner that they turned out for Inman.

No comments: