I’ll start this off with some content warnings. This book includes several suicide attempts (one successful), a main (POV) character who becomes an alcoholic and a drug addict and who is probably depressed, and several mentions of rape and child molestation. Most of these things aren’t described in much detail, but they’re there.
Almost all of this book is written as though it was the notebook of a man named Oba Yozo (I’m pretty sure that’s the original name order, with family name first, although I could be wrong). Yozo writes about his life from his early childhood days to what I’m assuming is near the end of his life. The book ends and begins with a chapter written from the perspective of someone who did not personally know Yozo but read his notebooks and met someone who did know him.
When Yozo was a very young child, he became convinced that he did not qualify as human. The thought that someone else might realize he wasn’t human so terrified him that he began to behave like a clown. If others were laughing at his antics and jokes, then they weren’t looking at him too closely. Unfortunately for him, he occasionally met individuals who seemed able to see beneath his clownish mask. Beginning in his college years, he was also taken aback by how attractive women seemed to find him.
Yozo seemed incapable of empathizing with others and could only view their words and actions in terms of how they directly related to him. This was especially driven home by the last few pages of the book, written from the perspective of a man who didn’t know Yozo. For the first time since the book began, a POV character was writing about people who weren’t Yozo as though they had thoughts and feelings of their own, and about the wider world and what was going on in it. It was like a breath of fresh air and really emphasized how isolated Yozo had been, even though he spoke to and interacted with more people in his portion of the book than the man at the end.
The beginning of the book worked best for me. Yozo was essentially trapped by his fears, worried about how others perceived him and what they might have been able to see in him. Because he couldn’t understand the thoughts and behaviors of those around him, he doubted the correctness of his own opinions and feelings - after all, if everyone else was human and he was not, who was he to contradict what others said or did? This was especially tragic when it led to him not telling anyone that one of the servants (or several) had molested him. Or at least I think that’s what happened - the author/translator was very vague, saying that he had been “corrupted” and that “to perpetrate such a thing on a small child is the ugliest, vilest, cruelest crime a human being can commit” (35).
Things started to fall apart during Yozo’s college years. Yozo’s father wanted him to become a civil servant, while Yozo wanted to study art. This devolved into Yozo skipping classes, drinking, hiring prostitutes, hanging out with Marxists, and occasionally working on his art. My patience with Yozo pretty much ran out, and it didn’t help that the book developed a very clear misogynistic thread. An example of one of this section's more off-putting quotes: at one point, Yozo said “I never could think of prostitutes as human or even as women” (63). Women, in particular, seemed drawn to his self-destructive orbit, and the result was misery for everyone involved.
Yozo continued his habit of believing others’ assessment of him. Sometimes this had a positive effect on Yozo, such as his brief period of contentment with his wife, a girl (really a girl - she was only 17 when he married her) who genuinely believed that he was a good person and that he would never lie to her. However, since Yozo seemed to gravitate towards people who looked down on him, his habit of accepting and believing whatever people said about him usually drew him further into his downward spiral. I’d say it was depressing, except Yozo was generally so detached from everything that the word seems too strong to be appropriate.
There’s a manga adaptation of this that I might read, just to get a different interpretation of the story. That said, I suspect the manga won’t work for me much more than this did. No Longer Human was well-written, but not my sort of book at all.
(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)