Confessions of a Mask by Yukio Mishima

There’s a story behind this book. I’ve been wanting to read this book for probably oh….9 years. Megan suggested it to me when we first met and started talking about books. She told me back then that it was her favorite book. So I put it on my mental TBR list. All I knew about it was that it had something to do with lgbt issues, was by a Japanese author, and was said to be quite autobiographical of Mishima himself, a fact that he frequently denied. I thought about this book off and on, here and there but never read it. Until Bellezza started her Japanese Literature Challenge. But I didn’t read it the first two years. Well I read it for this years challenge finally and now Megan is happy and I’m ecstatic for having read it. It always feels good to read a book that’s been on your TBR for that long and it feels even better when that book is as good as Confessions of a Mask is.

While I’m happy for having read this book, I should stress that this book is not a happy book. There were moments when Mishima would put a smile on my face – moments of love, moments of contemplation, quiet moments – he has a beautiful way with words as I already knew from reading The Sound of Waves; but where this book differs from The Sound of Waves is that there is a constant sense of overwhelming defeat. Defeat by who he is as a person.

Confessions of a Mask is the story of a young man’s struggles with his own sexuality. The book takes place in Japan in the times immediately before and during World War II. The narrator of the story knows from the time he is a child and first sees a sculpture of St. Sebastian that he is gay. In his sexual fantasies and in his thoughts, he embraces the idea, but in his conscience, he is conflicted. And he remains conflicted into his teenage years and beyond, constantly trying to convince himself, or maybe “test” is a better word, try to show himself that he is not gay.

What makes this story so sad is the narrator’s outward denial of who he is. I shouldn’t say that. He seems to know that he is gay, but at the same time, we as the reader see even him trying to rationalize to himself that he may not be. I can imagine that 1940’s Japan was not the easiest time to be accepted as a gay man. It seems that it was a time of strict guidelines when it comes to courting, the whole country was occupied by the military, every man and teen served in the military unless you were sick (which our narrator was despite his trying to get in the military as a passive suicidal thought).

I want to say that we’ve moved forward from this, but as I have that thought, I then realize how wrong that thought is. And how progressive of a book this was to be published in 1958. It showed that men do think this way. It was probably an “it’s ok to feel this way” book to  so many men out there who had struggled with their thoughts as the narrator of this book had.

The other thought I’m having as I write this review is that I can’t help but feel that this was at least semi-autobiographical of Mishima, himself. It was such an intimate book and it reads like a true autobiography. As I write this review, I keep wanting to say “Mishima says” or “the authors thoughts”. A quick wikipedia search shows that this is considered a “semi-autobiographical” novel, that Mishima visited gay bars and was rumored to have had affairs with men but was married and had children.

Whatever the case may be, it’s a strong novel that has power in it. Like The Sound of Waves, the prose of this novel is absolutely beautiful. There are passages in this novel that just snuck up on me. I would be reading along and all of a sudden this absolutely wonderful set of words would be there before my eyes. Mishima was a master at that. I have Spring Snow on my bookshelf. I think that will be my next read of his. I could happily read through his entire collection and never get sick of reading his words.

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10 Responses

  1. really brilliant review-I will look for Masks here in Manila

  2. Sounds so powerfully sad. And it sounds very much like a book I must read.

  3. It’s back! I saw this last night in my reader but when I came to your blog to comment it had disappeared. I’m glad I remembered to check back this morning.

    This sounds like a really interesting but sad book that I never would have looked twice at with that cover (it really doesn’t appeal to me at all). I know I shouldn’t judge on the cover but that cover just screams LONG AND BORING to me. Sigh. But with your review, I know it’s anything but that. Sounds like a great one for the GLBT Challenge.

  4. Last year I read The Temple of the Golden Pavilion by this same author and was similarly blown away by it. It also had some homosexual undercurrents, though they were much subtler there than in this one. I was so impressed with the psychological depth and sheer poetry of Mishima’s writing – I have a copy of The Sound of Waves and am really looking forward to reading it.

  5. Sounds like a very powerful book with a strong message. Wonderful review!

  6. Oh, this sounds like it will break my heart 😦 All the same, I’m dying to read it!

  7. I haven’t even heard of this book before. Sounds wonderful, but I just finished up with a book that literally broke my heart. Will have to wait a bit to read another one!!

    Great Review!

  8. I’ve been meaning to read Mishima for quite a while now, and just didn’t know where to start, there have been too many suggestions. But I love your review of this book here, which has also been on my radar for a while. So maybe I’ll start my Mishima-experience with this book.

  9. As you know, I love Mishima. Try The Sailor Who Fell from the Grace of the Sea. Creepy but you can’t stop reading.

  10. Yeah, he definitely nailed something here. I’m glad you liked this as much as I did.

    Spring Snow is excellent. I read it last fall. I’ve been having some trouble staying interested in Runaway Horses, though. The beginning is a bit of a slog. Are you planning on reading all of The Sea of Fertility books?

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