The Goddess Chronicle (2008) – KIRINO Natsuo

原文名:女神記
作家:桐野 夏生
発行年:平成20(2008年)

Many creation myths rely on a man. Those that don’t—like the one laid down in the Kojiki—requires the woman to know her place: subservient to the man. Indeed, in the text of the Japanese creation myth itself, the woman is punished for speaking out of turn. She literally is not allowed to have thoughts or ideas before the man does. Needless to say, this has informed a great deal of contemporary Japanese society. In The Goddess Chronicle, Natsuo Kirino interrogates this tale: what’s in it for the woman?

On a tiny teardrop island in the middle of the ocean two sisters are born. The older, Kamikuu, is destined for great things, while the younger, Namima, must live her life according to a strict set of rules laid down for women. But when one terrible event splits the two sisters forever, Namima finds herself in a place quite unlike anything she has ever known.

Nanima’s discovery that her older sister is the embodiment of purity, coincides with her realising that she is destined to be the representation of impurity. Without any action from her, society has forced her into a role she has no desire to play. From a young age, she is reminded that she is impure and dirty—an ugly woman with no place in polite society. Though, at first, she accepts her lot, as she grows older, she begins to rebel. In a neat flip of the Christian creation myth, it is a man—actually, a boy—who encourages her to rebel, to eat the forbidden food, and to reject her societal rules. Quickly, the two fall in love.

When Namima is (inevitably, perhaps) killed by her husband for his own selfish purposes, she is transported to the underworld, where she finds herself in the company of Izanami, the original female god who, with her husband, Izanaki, created the world. Izanami is filled with bitterness and rage at the world of men. For Izanami, this rage comes from being treated so poorly by both her husband and the creation god itself. Killed for speaking out of turn, she must now tend to the underworld as the goddess of death. Meanwhile, her husband is allowed to continue to wander the earth, sleeping with women and populating the world. Understandably, pain and anger infuse every single one of her actions.

By placing these two women next to each other, Kirino invites us to consider the pain women face at the hands of men. For Nanima, the pain is physical—her man saw her only as a biological tool, a vessel for his child to continue the family line. For Izanami, her crime was thinking outside the box. Both of their lives have been ruined by gender constructs beyond their control, by a world that sees women having a specific purpose and place. Any deviation from that line will quite literally result in a hell beyond anything on this earth.

This is a novel about violence against women, both physical and psychological. Kirino reminds us that, though this may be a myth, it is a myth that has shaped so much of what we believe today. It is a message to anyone who is listening: women have, since the beginning of creation, had to carry a burden far beyond what should be allowed, and perhaps this should be examined more closely by those in power.

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4 thoughts on “The Goddess Chronicle (2008) – KIRINO Natsuo

  1. Tony says:

    I haven’t tried anything by Kirino so far as I’m not a big fan of the kind of books (I think) she writes. However, this sounds like something I’d really enjoy – and I’ve just posted on ‘The Kojiki’, too ;)

    • Matthew Todd says:

      I definitely had the same thought about her other stuff, but I’m now super keen to check out Out. I’m imagining (perhaps quite incorrectly) a cross between this and Higashino’s Devotion of Suspect X.

  2. MarinaSofia says:

    I actually rather like Kirino, although she is unremittingly depressing. Of course, this is a very different kind of book – I love retellings of myths.

    • Matthew Todd says:

      Yes, this is not a depressing novel. It’s full of fire and anger – and perhaps if you think too much about how terrible the patriarchy is you might get depressed – but I don’t think that’s the take-home message.

      I didn’t mention this in the review, but this is a Canongate Myth – if you haven’t heard of the series, and like myth retellings, you should check it out!

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