Author: Sayaka Murata
Publisher: Grove Press
Publication Date: 10 November 2020
Format: eBook- PDF
Genre: Literary Fiction
Source: ARC via NetGalley
As a child, Natsuki doesn’t fit into her family. Her parents favor her sister, and her best friend is a plush toy hedgehog named Piyyut who has explained to her that he has come from the planet Popinpobopia on a special quest to help her save the Earth. Each summer, Natsuki counts down the days until her family drives into the mountains of Nagano to visit her grandparents in their wooden house in the forest, a place that couldn’t be more different from her grey commuter town. One summer, her cousin Yuu confides to Natsuki that he is an extraterrestrial and that every night he searches the sky for the spaceship that might take him back to his home planet. Natsuki wonders if she might be an alien too. Back in her city home, Natsuki is scolded or ignored and even preyed upon by a young teacher at her cram school. As she grows up in a hostile, violent world, she consoles herself with memories of her time with Yuu and discovers a surprisingly potent inner power. Natsuki seems forced to fit into a society she deems a “baby factory” but even as a married woman she wonders if there is more to this world than the mundane reality everyone else seems to accept. The answers are out there, and Natsuki has the power to find them.
Dreamlike, sometimes shocking, and always strange and wonderful, Earthlings asks what it means to be happy in a stifling world, and cements Sayaka Murata’s status as a master chronicler of the outsider experience and our own uncanny universe.
I have never read anything by Sayaka Murata before, so I approached Earthlings with no particularly expectations as to what it would be like. I was delighted by what I found, however. The story and its characters captured my interest right from the start, and I loved Murata's prose style which flows from the dreamlike to the stark in a gentle, non-jarring way. The themes in this book resonated deeply with me, and I felt a certain kinship with Natsuki that kept me invested in her progress through the story.
Earthlings is a wonderful depiction of the darker side of society and the norms it imposes, particularly the judgment it passes on those who don't conform. Although the story verges on the fantastical, the themes it explores are very much grounded in the reality of contemporary life, and I thought Murata handled that balance perfectly. Based on my experience with this book, I am keen to read more of her works in the future.
To close, I should say that Earthlings is not a book that will appeal to everyone. It contains some dark themes and depictions of events that may put off some readers. However, if you are not affected by such things I highly recommend this quirky and thought-provoking work.
I received this book as a free eBook ARC via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.