Earthlings by Sayaka Murata, trans. Ginny Tapeley Takemori

by Team Riverside

Granta, Hardback Fiction, £12.99, out now

A genre-defying novel from the bestselling author of Convenience Store Woman, newly translated into English. Natsuki has spent her whole life not fitting in, failing to live up to the expectations of her family. She confides in her mysterious cousin Yuu and her toy hedgehog, Piyuut, who she believes is an emissary sent by the Magic Police on Planet Popinpobopia. But a tragic event during a family vacation in the wild Nagano Mountains sets Natsuki on a path of alienation, with catastrophic consequences.

Murata’s second novel in English deals with some of the same themes as her first, but while Convenience Store Woman asks how to rebel against familial and domestic structures, Earthlings asks if these structures are necessary at all. The events of the novel are shocking and unpredictable. The structure resembles that of a horror film, Natsuki’s traumatic experiences with a neglectful mother and an abusive teacher drive her deeper and deeper into a fantasy world where she is waiting to be collected by aliens from her home planet. She attempts to escape her family through a loveless marriage, but not even this can save her from their controlling influence. Her behaviour becomes erratic, even sadistic, and culminates in a bloody conclusion, involving her cousin, her husband and a return to the mountains.

Whilst I thought this was a steep departure from Convenience Store Woman, which I thoroughly enjoyed, this second novel in English confirms that Murata is a fantastically exciting writer and I can’t wait to read what she writes next.

Review by Phoebe

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