The long-awaited first short story collection by the author of the cult sensation Convenience Store Woman, tales of weird love, heartfelt friendships, and the unsettling nature of human existence
With Life Ceremony, the incomparable Sayaka Murata is back with her first collection of short stories to be translated into English. In Japan, Murata is particularly admired for her short stories, which are sometimes sweet, sometimes shocking, and always imbued with an otherworldly imagination and uncanniness.
In these twelve stories, Murata mixes an unusual cocktail of humour and horror to portray the loners and outcasts and turn society's norms and traditions on their heads to question them better. Whether the stories take place in modern-day Japan, the future or an alternate reality is left to the reader's interpretation, as the characters often seem strange in their normality in a frighteningly bizarre world. In "A First-Rate Material," Nana and Naoki are happily engaged. Still, Naoki can't stand the conventional use of deceased people's bodies for clothing, accessories, and furniture, and a disagreement around this threatens to derail their perfect wedding day. "Lovers on the Breeze" is told from the perspective of a curtain in a child's bedroom that jealously watches the young girl Naoko as she has her first kiss with a boy from her class and does its best to stop her. "Eating the City" explores the strange norms around food and foraging. At the same time, "Hatchling" closes the collection with an extraordinary depiction of the fractured personality of someone who tries too hard to fit in.
In these strange and beautiful stories of family and friendship, sex and intimacy, belonging and individuality, Murata asks what it means to be a human in our world and offers answers that surprise and linger.
Editorial ReviewsPraise for Life Ceremony:
"Murata's prose is deadpan, as clear as cellophane . . . Chilly and transgressive at the same time . . . Murata is interested in how disgust drives ethics, in why some things repel us but not others . . . Murata's prose, in this translation from Japanese by Ginny Tapley Takemori, is generally so cool you could chill a bottle of wine in it."—Dwight Garner, New York Times.
"Twelve engrossing entries that probe intimacy and individuality while turning norms upside down . . . Strange and bold."—Time, "New Books You Need to Read This Summer."
"Picking up on themes in her novel Earthlings, most of these stories are about alienation, exploring what it means to be 'normal' through a close focus on characters, nearly always women, who do not conform to social expectations . . . The author's plain, clear, observational style makes the stories believable, easy to read and hard to forget."—Lisa Tuttle, Guardian.
"Life Ceremony uncovers Murata's preoccupation with our species' norms writ large, beyond gender, sex, and reproduction. Several stories imagine near-future worlds in which bodies find new uses after death . . . In offering such exaggerated scenarios, Murata exposes the lunacy of the norms we so blithely follow . . . Murata's lifelong feeling of being a stranger has given her a perspective from which to create her worlds."—WIRED.
"Life Ceremony is not a book for the squeamish or easily shocked . . . Much of the humour in these stories comes from the paradox of grotesque elements in quotidian settings, such as when the characters in Life Ceremony discuss with perfect earnestness how they'll have to carefully prepare a deceased co-worker's flesh for a stir-fry with cashew nuts . . . At their best, these macabre stories are imbued with tender compassion for their characters' quirks."—Florentyna Leow, Japan Times.
"In Life Ceremony, Murata's first collection of short stories to appear in English, her narratives are conspicuously weirder, weird in the sense of weird tales—dark and macabre, surprising and strange. The twelve stories blend humour and horror to examine societal norms and to expose how bizarre and oppressive certain social standards and traditions can be, especially for women . . . Murata's signature matter-of-fact tone makes this off-kilter reality both viscerally and intellectually provocative . . . Translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori, Murata's style is deceptively blunt and direct, making for a lightning-quick read. And yet, the stories' haunting premises linger in mind."—Kathleen Rooney, Liber.
"The short-story format serves up a buffet of settings for Murata to work her magic. Whether they're about eating one's colleagues, or sexless marriage, the stories are snapshots of rational, believable worlds on which are projected normal madnesses—and things we might not want to admit we think about—in all their funny, disgusting, innocent human glory."—Russell Thomas, South China Morning Post.
"[Life Ceremony is] strange. Like, brilliantly, properly strange—there's nothing you've read before that you can compare to this. Want to read about a girl who falls in love with her bedroom curtain? You can do that here. How about people who honour their dead by eating them and then procreating? You came to the right place. It's a wild ride to the edges of your imagination and comprehension—and well worth the trip."—Harper's Bazaar (Australia)
"Once more, internationally bestselling Murata confronts unspeakable topics with quotidian calm, shockingly convincing logic, and creepy humour in a dozen genre-defying stories . . . Murata groupies will appreciate a glimpse of characters from Earthlings, while readers seeking the undefinable will enjoy these tales immensely."—Terry Hong, Booklist (starred review)
"A singular collection . . . [Murata] investigates the validity of our most basic rituals—how humans eat, marry, procreate, and die—and incisively explores the rich, messy stuff left behind once they're violated . . . Murata's stories are tightly woven and endlessly surprising, with far more going on beneath the surface than is initially evident and surprising moments of unexpected beauty . . . Murata's writing remains essential and captivating, expertly capturing the fragility of social norms and calling into question what remains of human nature once they're stripped away. Beautiful, disturbing, and thought-provoking."—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
"With Life Ceremony, Sayaka Murata has created a series of funhouse mirrors, each story in the collection pushing readers to reconsider what is true, distorting the image so completely as to open the viewer to new and unexpected perspectives . . . Each story displays fine-boned architecture, carefully curating details and paring away from the extraneous. The result is remarkable, the lean force of Murata's imagination rippling through each piece."—Shelf Awareness.
"In this off-kilter collection, Murata brings a grotesque whimsy to her fables of cultural norms . . . Like the author's novels, this brims with ideas."—Publishers Weekly.
"Murata's premises are always eye-opening, and the result intrigues and satisfies readers of literary and speculative fiction alike."—Library Journal.
Praise for Sayaka Murata:
"To Sayaka Murata, nonconformity is a slippery slope . . . Reminiscent of certain excellent folk tales; expressionless prose is Murata's trademark . . . The strength of [Murata's] voice lies in the faux-naïf lens through which she filters her dark view of humankind: We earthlings are sad, truncated bots, shuffling through the world in a dream of confusion."—New York Times Book Review
"Murata takes a childlike idea and holds onto it with imaginative fervour, brilliantly exposing the callousness and arbitrariness of convention."—New Yorker.
"Murata manages what her characters cannot: She transcends society's core values, to dizzying effect . . . Her matter-of-fact rendering of wild events is as disorienting as it is intriguing."—Atlantic.
"Sayaka Murata is always a reliable place to turn if you're in the mood for weirdness."—Seattle Times.
"The imagination of this writer grows like outer space."—Literary Hub.
"Murata celebrate the quiet heroism of women who accept the cost of being themselves."—NPR's Fresh Air
"Murata's sparkly writing and knack for odd, beautiful details are her own."—Vogue.
"Murata's novels are a valuable, heightened exploration of the intense discomfort that people, autistic or not, who are just a little outside of society can feel when they try to force themselves to fit in. Murata's message is: stop trying."—i-D