Review: EARTHLINGS by Sayaka Murata, Ginny Tapley Takemori (trans.) (2020)

Genre: Adult Horror
Year Release: 2020
Source: Audible

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Listened to the audiobook
Trigger warnings: child sexual assault (graphic), incest, murder, suicidal ideation, child abuse, child neglect, depression, murder, cannibalism, vomiting

Don’t let the adorable cover fool you, this book is an exploration of trauma and never feeling quite human. Natsuki is essentially a child neglected by her parents and her best friend is the plush toy on the cover, Piyyut. Summer proves a reprieve when she spends time with her best friend and cousin Yu, while her city home life is a nightmare of being preyed upon by a teacher and her parents ignoring her. What ensues is a deeply interior journey of understanding “the factory” that makes the adults around Natsuki the way they are and the stark ways she does not want to partake in that system, either implicitly or explicitly.

Brutal in its prose and harsh in its indictment of the ways parents and society fail children at every turn, absolutely heed the trigger warnings before giving this one a read.

This is not a book for people who equate depiction and endorsement. The topics are heavy and Murata does not shy away from the grittier and more visceral details. This book gets classified as a horror, but it’s definitely more in the way that childhood traumas ripple into adulthood, and lead to some heinous acts in the name of seeking anything resembling normalcy. The way Natsuki engages with adult paradoxes, specifically those imposed by her parents, was particularly compelling to me. Parents are not always good for their children, especially when the kids might not have the vocabulary for the things happening to them.

While the plot beats that unfold disturb, but there is a logical progression in terms of the themes. There is nothing here that does not logically flow from the terrible thing that came before it. I had come upon this read seeking “insane” reads, and the way Murata handles catharsis is so violent yet not gratuitous given the circumstances that it fits the bill. Natsuki is a difficult main character, but that’s a lot of what makes her so compelling. In between critiques of patriarchal structures and notions of family, there’s a character trying to understand it all who doesn’t quite get the answer right (like, at all).

Earthlings is absolutely one that will stay with me for a while.

2 thoughts on “Review: EARTHLINGS by Sayaka Murata, Ginny Tapley Takemori (trans.) (2020)

  1. Pingback: December 2022 Reading Recap | Jo Writes Fantasy

  2. Pingback: My 2022 in Reading: Jo Needs a Nap | Jo Writes Fantasy

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