Spring Snow is a historical fiction novel by Yukio Mishima, which explores several wealthy characters in Japan during the early years of the Taisho period. The main family who’s story is being told is the Matsugae family, with the central character being Kiyoaki Matsugae, the son of the rising aristrocrat, Marquis Matsugae and his relationship with the daughter of the Count Ayakura, Satoko.
Spring Snow is a VERY character-driven story with a lot of psychological warfare going on with several characters, especially between Kiyoaki and Satoko, who have a relationship reminiscent of Heathcliff and Catherine Earnshaw from Wuthering Heights.
Kiyaoki is an aloof and yet emotionally volatile character. It’s almost as if his natural state of being is indifference and if anything disturbs that, he becomes quite aggressive towards whoever disturbed his peace, sometimes passively but other times very head-on. Satoko is one character who does disturb his peace. Satoko and Kiyaoki very clearly have romantic feelings about each other, but Kiyaoki is extremely hesitant (at-first) to act on his feelings and seems to have an internal war with himself over the nature of his feelings. He doesn’t want to act on them, but get annoyed whenever they show up and takes it out on Satoko. His conflict and initial refusal to accept his feelings results in tragedy for everyone involved, including both of their families.
The main witness to these events is Shigekuni Honda, who provides the main viewpoint in the all four novels in the series, but from what I’ve seen (I’ve read the first two), is both an important figure in all of the stories and yet is never the central character, despite being one of the few characters to be featured in all four novels and being a main part of each narrative. To be fair, He’s the only character who’s got it together in almost every way and so his story would likely not be very interesting to begin with. Also, this gives the author to have a familiar face throughout his series, while also having real consequences for the main character of each novel.
Even though this novel and series is character-driven, it is very much the story and actions of these characters that make you want to come to this series, rather then any personality traits/quirks of the characters themselves. Personally, I don’t Mishima is trying to make his characters people you are rooting for or getting emotionally attached to. It feels more like watching a senseless tragedy unfold, one where you feel horrible for everyone involved, and yet are still likely to call them idiots and putting themselves in their predicaments.
Mishima is also a very atmospheric writer. He does a great job are describing not only the setting, but everything underlying any exchange or moment. There is a lot of psychological power plays in this novel, and Mishima has the ability to turn any conversation into a dramatic event, unpacking everything in the character’s heads, their emotions and the atmosphere, almost making the reader an extension of Honda, who is aware of everything unfolding in front of him but doesn’t have much influence in the direction of the novel or the character’s actions. I wonder if Honda is intentionally shown to be less involved in the affairs of others because Mishima was going for this affect.
Recommended Readings if you enjoyed Spring Snow:
Kokoro by Natsume Soseki, Translated by Edwin McClellan
The Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante, Translated by Ann Goldstein
This book is part of my No Book Left Behind Project.