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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction



Snakes and Earrings

by
Kanehara Hitomi


general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Snakes and Earrings



Title: Snakes and Earrings
Author: Kanehara Hitomi
Genre: Novel
Written: 2004 (Eng. 2005)
Length: 120 pages
Original in: Japanese
Availability: Snakes and Earrings - US
Snakes and Earrings - UK
Snakes and Earrings - Canada
Serpents et piercings - France
Tokyo Love - Deutschland
  • Translated by David James Karashima
  • Awarded the Akutagawa Prize

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Our Assessment:

B- : slight slice of contemporary Japan

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Bookforum A- Summer/2005 Christine Thomas
Financial Times . 3/6/2005 Andrew Lee
The Guardian . 16/7/2005 Maya Jaggi
The Independent . 10/6/2005 Victoria James
Neue Zürcher Zeitung . 30/12/2006 .


  From the Reviews:
  • "Hitomi Kanehara ingenuously limns the surreal brutality of her country's contemporary youth culture (.....) Though the novel works too hard at its ending, forcing Liu's redemption and realization, Snakes and Earrings remains elegantly raw and remarkable in its potent simplicity." - Christine Thomas, Bookforum

  • "As events unfold, Lui wishes she "had a greater vocabulary to fully express the extent of [my] pain and hatred". Instead, her rage is contained and Kanehara tells the dark tale of Tokyo youth with a simple, visceral eloquence." - Andrew Lee, Financial Times

  • "(T)autly disturbing (.....) (I)t offers more than sociological interest, as a debut novel about alienation that is shocking without being sensational." - Maya Jaggi, The Guardian

  • "Kanehara, now 20, is the real thing. Her prose is lean, and her characterisation convincing." - Victoria James, The Independent

  • "Mit erstaunlicher Lakonie, gekonnter Handlungsführung und kunstvoller Symbolik lotet Kanahara die Bodenlosigkeit jugendlicher Verzweiflung aus. Eigentlich stimmt es ja froh, dass es hierzulande noch keine Teenager gibt, die solche Romane schreiben müssen." - Neue Zürcher Zeitung

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Snakes and Earrings is narrated by Lui -- "Lui for Louis Vuitton" she claims, though the truth is more prosaic --, not yet twenty and living on her own in Tokyo. She's distanced herself from her parents -- they aren't any sort of presence in her life, though she claims: "there was no trouble in our family." She's considered a 'Barbie-girl', but it's a label she rejects, and when she meets forked-tongued and tattooed Ama (who literally has a tongue with its tip split) she knows that this is the path she wants to go down.
       Lui has already gotten progressively larger-gauge earrings, making for big holes in her ears, but it's that split-tongue idea that really appeals to her, and so she gets her tongue pierced and begins the slow and painful process of enlarging the hole until it can be split. Ama and his similarly punkish tattoo-parlour pal, Shiba-san, are the kind of people she admires:

All I wanted was to be part of an underground world where the sun doesn't shine, there are no serenades, and the sound of children's laughter is never ever heard.
       So, she's on the nihilistic side, but her account is, surprisingly, not all that bleak. Ama is a pretty decent guy, even if his looks do scare everyone off, and Lui can still put on a kimono and transform herself into a demure 'companion' girl (getting good money for "pouring drinks and looking pretty at hotel parties for a couple of hours") if the opportunity arises, and for the most part they live a pretty simple, peaceful life (appearances notwithstanding).
       Violence does crop up: Ama really lays into someone who is rude to Lui (and offers her a love token that wouldn't be everybody's idea of romantic) and Shiba-san seems like he has a pretty dark side. There is an awful lot of (unnecessary) pain, mainly in the form of the tattoos and the tongue-piercings (this essentially self-inflicted pain is, perhaps, so prevalent because the characters can't feel very much otherwise). Eventually, one of the characters meets a particularly brutal end -- likely at the hands of one of the others -- and yet even that seems part of the process: Lui is terribly affected, but she doesn't take the consequences one might expect her to take.
       It's an odd life Kanehara describes, identity found in appearances (which change quite a bit in the novel) and labels ('Barbie-girl', punk, etc.) and not more conventional forms. Lui lives with Ama for months and has what she describes as an intimate and close relationship with him, yet never even learns his full name or where he works. Names and mundane matters such as wage-earning are of essentially no significance -- but it's not entirely clear what Lui seeks instead; indeed, her life -- especially her domestic life -- is remarkably conventional. She and the others just don't look the part, but beyond that (and a few little quirks) they're all remarkably ordinary. Lui's tongue-splitting endeavour -- a protracted affair -- is one ambition (one that would mark her in a way that made it impossible to, for example, be a companion-girl again), but it's a superficial change. Contemporary life doesn't appear to be quite as easy to escape.
       Snakes and Earrings is a short novella, and an odd mix of the sedate and simple and the brutal. Lui is a remarkably self-absorbed character, taking the world entirely on her own terms, showing almost no curiosity about anything. It doesn't make for a very interesting life (hence the need for some sordid and spectacular events to spice things up in the book), and her embrace of this lifestyle seems no more convincing than any other she might choose. She remains a cipher even at the end.

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Links:

Snakes and Earrings: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Japanese author Kanehara Hitomi was born in 1983.

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© 2005-2007 the complete review

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