Life for Sale by Yukio Mishima
“Well, that's what they do on television. Every fifteen minutes, there are breaks for commercials. That way we get to look forward to what's coming next. That's how it works in real life too.”
Human contempt and meaninglessness are romantic yearnings for a character as self-pitying and nihilistic as Hanio. Though the story follows a linear path, from the first page to the last, it is a complex layering of visceral and absurd descriptions that offer a skewed perspective of what humans are conditioned to think of as “normal.” Life for Sale drowns in its own pathological ennui.
Through the lens of a copywriter, Hanio, Mishima deals with themes of utopia and dystopia, post-war Japan, consumerism, desire, money, love, hedonism, and the morality that cuts through it all. Full of surreal misadventures, Life for Sale is a paradox, undoubtedly graphic, and arresting to read. I think it proves its triumph as a work of fiction, along with the more notable works of Mishima, by first being serialized in Playboy magazine. I also think that this novel is better read as satire and perhaps even as modern horror.
In pursuit of Death, Hanio encounters Life. But in this story, Life is not lived but it is caged and asphyxiated out of desperation. It’s a bittersweet blend of existential emptiness and lurid fantasies. Life for Sale portrays how pale and alienated humans feel in comparison to the unrequited beauty of nature.
Mishima creates the perfect balance of ache and pleasure in his descriptions of people and nature. And as the glorious starry night that clings to Hanio’s heart also brings his musings on death to its inevitable end, I can only imagine Hanio drowning in the deep blue of the night sky to find proof of his aliveness on earth.
I wonder if we aren’t all living out our visceral yearning for such an eventful decay and unfeeling when faced with the stubbornness of nature and its unwillingness to die.