“Earthlings” Book Review
My first thought when I finished reading “Earthlings” by Sayaka Murata, was “what the hell did I just read?” I received the book as a Christmas present from my mother. I had never heard of it before, but my mother saw that it got good reviews, and that the author had done some well regarded work before. I saw the title, picture, and read the first few sentences of the summary. The quote on the front that recommended it called it radical, hilarious and heartwarming. That is a complete and utter LIE. “Earthlings” is one of the most disturbing pieces of media that I have ever seen. When I finished this book, it felt like a bucket full of pond slime had been dumped down my throat, and then I got thrown headfirst into an ice bath. It’s screwed up enough that the scene where the underage main character is forced to give her teacher a blowjob is only about the fourth worst thing that happens in this book. Stay far, far away from “Earthlings” if you don’t have the stomach for this sort of thing. For those of you that do, let’s discuss the plot.
“Earthlings” follows Natsuki, a young girl whose family journeys up to a small wooden cabin every year in order to visit family. But she has a secret in the form of a stuffed hedgehog, which she believes is an alien in disguise and is giving her missions to help save the world. She and her cousin Yuu marry each other in a child’s recreation of a marriage ceremony, and vow to “survive, whatever it takes.” Natsuki is young enough that this could be written off as a young child playing pretend, but when she can’t deal with the aforementioned teacher, she murders him, hallucinating all the way through that it was her hedgehog telling her to kill someone called the Wicked Witch. A piece of media is allowed to be as disturbing, weird or gross as it wants, but it does need to have some sort of point. Normality is a running theme throughout the book. Natsuki’s family is completely normal, save for the fact that they are a Japanese equivalent to the Durselys from Harry Potter. They even have a daughter who gets spoiled when Natsuki gets hit on the head with a slipper repeatedly. But it’s fueled not by hatred, but by a twisted lust. They want to keep everything normal, and they expect their daughter to create the perfect family, just like they did.
When Natsuki grows up, she marries a man with no interest in sex because her experiences with her teacher traumatized her enough that she wanted to never do anything like it again. Her husband is just asexual, and doesn’t want anything to do with sex. A strange thing that stuck out to me is that one line in the book claimed that he was heterosexual, but the husband never wants to go beyond the kind of affection that you would see in a fifties sitcom. Why not just have him be asexual? Was it the publisher making the author put that line in? If so then it wasn’t a very good fix. Either way, neither Natsuki nor her husband want to have intercourse, or have children. Both of their families keep pressuring them to do so, until Natsuki and her husband decide to run off and live in the cabin where Natsuki’s families used to meet in the summer.
Natsuki, her husband and Yuu are the three “heroes” of the story. They are the only people in the book who empathise with Natsuki and her struggles. I mentioned that Natsuki’s family was abusive, but her friends lack an ability to make an emotional connection with her. But Yuu and her husband aren’t great people either. Tomoya, her husband, is lazy, dumb, and unable to hold down a job. Yuu seems to have a mental illness of some sort, as does Natsuki. The two of them both begin to believe that they are aliens, and Tomoya goes along with it. This book has been described as a celebration of non conformity, but that doesn’t seem true at all. This is a story of mentally ill people crashing up against an abusive support system and destroying themselves in the process. Natsuki’s delusions and her abusive family are the only options presented in the story. One extreme or the other. Maybe “don’t conform to society’s expectations but don’t start a cult” was the idea? “Moderation is key”? That’s my only idea here. “Earthlings” is disturbing, disgusting, and makes me question the author’s sanity at points. And yet I finished it. I read the whole thing in two days, despite the book’s horrific nature, I found myself compelled to read the whole thing. Maybe it’s the simple style that moves things along quickly while still laying bare exactly what’s happening. Maybe it was morbid curiosity; I needed to see exactly how far the book was willing to go with its ideas. Maybe it’s just because the book was short and I wanted to get it over with. I don’t hate this book, but I can’t say I like it very much either. Approach this one with caution. 5/10.