Snakes and Earrings is a novella by young contemporary Japanese author which won the Akutagawa prize (a prestigious literary award in Japan). The front of the book states it as a cult-classic in Japan. I can understand why. The book is bold in carrying the darker issues of Japanese youths: body modification (split tongue, gigantic earrings), tattoos, and sadomasochism, to name a few. I was surprised there was no drugs, only lots of beers, and sex. Like many Japanese books, it discusses issues that revolve around loneliness and desperation, the unwillingness to live and the view of death as solution.
I’m not sure if I really “got” it. Their world seemed a bit too far off for me. I was intrigued by the details of tattooing and body modification that the book covers for a bit, but I wasn’t fond of the characters. The setting felt very Japanese, with details like buying hair bleach from a 24-hour convenience store and “companion” job for young girls (they basically need to look pretty and pour drinks for high corporate workers). So the book does have some interesting bits, but the main storyline felt a bit shallow. It reminded me of Banana Yoshimoto’s books. Most probably because the authors were both young and they wrote about young Japanese people and their problems.
Do prepare for a rough ride. You know how Japan is a world of two extremes? Old and new, reserved and outrageous, polite and crazy. Well, Snakes and Earrings is the darker extreme. The book however, is very short, so most probably it would finish before it disturbs you.
Hitomi Kanehara moved out of home when she was 11 and dropped out of high school when she was 15. She then regularly emailed her stories to her father — a literary professor. Honestly I can’t imagine writing this kind of book and have my dad read it.
I think this book could easily be semi-autobiographical. The back of the book shows her picture with various sizes of earrings on one ear, which the main character has as well. The heroine is also described as “barbie-girl” and has lived away from home since young.
2003 (Japanese), 2005 (English), 128 pp
2003 Akutagawa Prize