Review of ‘Earthlings’ by Sayaka Murata

Disturbing, unpredictable and a hundred times weirder than Convenience Store Woman, this novel is not for the faint-hearted. I already knew that, but when Earthlings became available at the library, I thought I should at least give it a try.

The story begins like a Studio Ghibli animation, with a girl named Natsuko driving with her family to a curious house in the mountains where they will celebrate the Obon festival. Natsuko doesn’t fit in and is always being criticised. She pretends that she’s an alien waiting for her spaceship home.

Then things get creepy and gross. There is pretty much every trigger warning you could think of. I was laughing incredulously by the end because every taboo was stuffed into this book. I recognise what the author was doing, however, expanding upon the themes of Convenience Store Woman to explore what happens when society tries to force people – women in particular – into roles they can’t or don’t wish to fulfil.

Some of the content was repetitive and not elegantly phrased, which made the writing style unappealing to me. I’m sure the translation by Ginny Tapley Takemori is well done, so the author must be the culprit. I didn’t like the book – I wasn’t expecting to – yet I will always remember it and certainly the story is thought-provoking. I wonder where Sayaka Murata will go from here? It would be quite a feat to write a book more shocking than this one.

First published in Japanese as Chikyu Seijin in 2018. English edition published in 2020.

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