Book Review: Quicksand by Jun’ichirō Tanizaki

QuicksandQuicksand by Jun’ichirō Tanizaki
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was such an utterly fascinating read. What begins innocuously as a tale of forbidden love between two women quickly unravels into a novel of grand deceit, depravity, narcissism, blackmail, and deliberate wickedness. More than once while reading it I was reminded of Sarah Waters Fingersmith – the labyrinthine plot, narrative construction, and Möbius-strip like revelations. Fluid, like sweetened poison.

Humiliation is the key construct on which this novel rests and is the machine that propels the narrative. Spouses deceive, exploit, and manipulate each other. Lovers blackmail, friends seduce, confidantes betray, and psychotic relationships are the new normal.

There is not one redeeming individual in this book. And that is part of its shocking yet irresistible quality. In Quicksand, Tanizaki has designed some of the most intricate, bewitching, and repugnant human beings in fiction. Through the coming together of the five pivotal characters, you see how this tale is set at the intersection of their weakest, most corrupt points in life. They are all unconsiable, quietly terrifying, and exquisitely unhinged. On display is such a dazzlingly repulsive array of toxicity rendered so casually, that you are removed from reality.

And this is Tanizaki’s genius: the effortless elegance with which he tells a story regardless of its dissolute characters and their ghastly shenanigans. As the misdemeanours begin to come to light you wonder at the author’s sublime understanding of the human psyche and all that it is capable of.

You cannot put it down. It infuriates you. Shocks and affronts you, but you will stay glued to the pages. For a book written nearly a century ago there is such a modern sophistication devoid of judgment and moral policing. It reflects incredible insight, and such a keenness of observation you are left without doubt that Tanizaki is truly a master of plot, complexity, and controlled prose.

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