August 11, 2005

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August 04, 2005

(Yes. Sometimes I read a book.)

The Key by Junichiro Tanizaki

Tanizaki was apparently influenced by French Decadent literature, and like any decadent literature, this is a book about the final efflorescence, the candle flame brightening for a brief moment before it dies out. A middle-aged university professor begins the new year by confiding about his sexual life with Ikuko, his wife, in his diary. Ikuko, a conservative woman with a strong sexual drive, begins her own diary. The professor is dissatisfied with sex without the light on, and sets out to loosen Ikuko up, first with brandy and then the possible attentions of a younger man. The best way to describe the horrible fascination of what follows is that you can't partly drive off a cliff. In outline, it sounds like late-night Cinemax, but this novel is suffused with a strangeness of motive and incident. What is the daughter's role in all this? Is destruction what the professor really wants. Like Kubrick's film, death hangs over the erotic, a trap hidden in plain sight. And like that film, this has an oddness that needles you. (I do think the idea that unlocking a woman's sexual desire is like pulling the pin out of a grenade is something that only a man would write.)