By Luciana Leitão

Snakes and Earrings is far from being consensual. Describing a love triangle between three young characters, it is a tale of passion, sex, alcohol, drugs, piercing and tattoos. Unconventional, to say the least, the book by the young author Hitomi Kanehara is compelling because it reveals a portrait of post-bubble Japan youth, even if accidentally.

If you haven’t read it yet, you will be surprised by what you read on the Internet. I found so many negative remarks, that made me doubt whether it was the same book. I can, however, understand why, even though I do not agree.

Snakes and Earrings is amoral, provocative and it breaks all sort of boundaries. The main character is the nineteen-year-old Lui, who gets enchanted by the snakelike forked tongue of Ama, a stranger. She meets him and immediately starts living with him.

Lui then starts getting obsessed with having her tongue pierced and tattooing her body. That’s when Shiba, a professional tattooer who is Ama’s friend, steps in. Lui then gets involved with Shiba, creating an explosive love triangle.

The description on the sex scenes are quite graphic and vivid, and are prone to create all sorts of awkward feeling to some of the readers. They involve pain and different rituals. But it’s more than that, the characters seem to expect nothing out of life — everything seems to be a-sentimental, amoral and all in the name of personal and instant satisfaction. Hence, the negative criticism I read on the Internet.

For me, Snakes and Earrings is refreshingly unconventional, as good books often are. The book’s focus seems to be more on the characters rather than on the plot and it seems to depict certain aspects of Japanese contemporary youth, even though that probably wasn’t the author’s intention. ”Some people were saying things I had never thought of, and there were some who saw things completely differently from what I had intended,” Hitomi Kanehara said to The New York Times. ”These are all different ways of looking at the novel. It was interesting, even the misunderstandings.”

In the late 1980s, there was an economic bubble in Japan, which collapsed in early 1992. Japan was much different after that. Set in the 2000s, Snakes and Earrings is a story of the Japanese generation who has always been used to the difficulties in life, contrarily to their parents, who lived in a prosperous country. A story of a youth with no expectations. Snakes

Snakes and Earrings won the Akutagawa Prize, in 2004, the top Japanese literary award. “A radical depiction of our time,” described the famous author Ryu Murakami, who was part of the jury.