Earthlings by Sayaka Murata

When Natsuki is a child, she believes that her toy hedgehog is an alien and wants her to save the planet using magic. When she tells her beloved cousin, he is a life line who understands her and tells her his secret, he’s also an alien. We come to understand that this story helps them make sense of their abusive and alienating home life. When Natsuki grows us, she still clings to this story, and draws her husband and cousin into this world she has created, an escape from the pressures of life.

This is really too simple an explanation of the plot. The story is Natsuki’s, and I think you can really choose to believe her story is real, that she does belong on another planet, if you want to. It’s a book that in a way, is about it’s main character more than the plot, though there is a great plot here too. It’s only a short book, so I don’t want to reveal too much of that.

But I will say… This book has some dark subject matter. I found myself sometimes laughing, sometimes cringing, but I always kept turning pages, wanting to see where this was all going. I really like Natsuki, and wanted to see her break free. I also wanted to see where it was all going to end. This girl’s trauma is constantly dismissed, and there isn’t a lot she can do. Where is it taking us?

And that ending…. I don’t have words. It’s insane.

This book has elements of incest, violence, sexual abuse, murder and child abuse. There’s also some cannibalism in there for good measure too. It’s a book where things happen, things develop, and they all make sense in the context of the events and feelings of Natsuki’s life, but they’re also crazy. Natsuki’s actions protect herself, but when taken into adulthood, they harm others. With her need to feel numb, to be out of her own body, she focuses on logic and fairy stories, there is no room for understanding emotions and bonds between people. And when we don’t have empathy, we’re dangerous.

I really liked this book. I think it is really odd and might not appeal to some people, but I really enjoyed it. I felt like Natsuki was well written and made a lot of sense in her responses to her life and the way she’s treated. It’s just taken a step further, and several steps after that. She feels very real to me. I loved the family home in the mountains that’s a major location in the book. It sounded so beautiful, and a place of safety for Natsuki. A romanticised place. It’s a short book, but has these long, easy, flowing chapters, and takes us from a very young to adult protagonist.

I also felt that the way Natsuki sees life or society as a factory and her and others bodies as a commodity really insightful. It makes sense of the world around her. I did see someone say the book was kind of an allegory for life or society, or a satire, and I think you can read this book this way. Personally, I just read it as a story, but there’s a lot you could unpack seeing it as an allegory.

I think the darkness and strangeness of this book means it might not be for everyone, but I loved it. It’s so smart, so different, and really shows an understanding of trauma, abuse and social pressure, and understanding of character as a means to drive action and plot. And while the darkness is what stands out in memory, it’s also sort of funny and light too. It’s not a heavy, emotional read.

Thank you so much PGC Books for sending me the ARC of this book for review. Earthlings is out in October.

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