The secret to the ending of Somersault
April 22, 2010 8:20 PM   Subscribe

I just finished reading Kenzaburo Oe's Somersault and I don't quite get the ending. Can someone shed light on why the main (initial) characters do what they do? Spoilers inside.

I don't fully understand the conclusion of the relationships Dancer, Ikuo and Ogi have with the church and with each other (including with Professor Kizu) and their behaviour at the burning.

In particular, the romantic relationship between Ikuo and Dancer felt completely out of the blue, considering how little character development the latter received.

What did I miss?
posted by tksh to Media & Arts (5 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I am sad that no one wants to talk about the ending :/
posted by tksh at 1:12 PM on April 24, 2010

It's been a long time since I've read that book - at least five years - but I just recently finished Oe's The Silent Cry. One thing about Oe is that he tends to revisit the same autobiographical ideas over and over again in his books, and The Silent Cry is about the same small mountain town, the same spirit dances, and a characters similar to Kizu and Ikou (except brothers instead of lovers). Reading it now might help you with the ending. Oe's Nip the Buds, Shoot the Kids is also pretty related.

I DO remember being a little confused at the ending and mulling it over for a few months before really liking it. It's been too long for me to remember exactly what I thought about the interrelationships, though.

One thing I do remember is Ikou moving further and further away from the focal point and becoming more and more a symbol. I think viewing the characters, and their relationships, as symbols of the creation of a new civilization, as a modern Adam and Eve is helpful. Ikou is used as the creation of a New Man (Oe is pretty damn influenced by Blake, as is evident in "Rouse Up O Young Men of the New Age!") by the church, and I think seeing him as a person who has been fully masked by himself as an icon (Violent, youthful leader) instead of himself as a person (homosexual, dogfaced boy) is Oe's purpose here. The book also moves from realistic to metaphysical towards the end, and I get the sense that as an American reader I'm missing a lot of the more subtle tones that the village mythology and Aum Shinrikyo give the book. Underground by Haruki Murakami helped with the latter, and independent research helped with the former, but I didn't find either of them entirely germane to understanding what happened to the characters themselves.

I was waiting for someone else to answer, since it's been a long time since I've read this book, but that's all I've got. After thinking about this book for a long time, I finally decided that what I liked about it was the mood and the slow pacing rather than the actual events. I'm not sure it will be helpful, but here's a review I wrote of it on GoodReads. Reading their other people's analyses might also shed some light on the book. Sorry I can't be more helpful.
posted by OrangeDrink at 12:36 PM on April 25, 2010

I've read Murakami's Underground before so that helped with the pseudo-religion story. I have to admit I kind of zoned out with the Quiet Mothers subplot and that probably had subtle clues to Dancer's and Ikuo's characters.

Interesting take on the Ikuo as a symbol reading - I read his story as entirely of a journey to accept himself and to come to terms of his sexual abuse. I guess that's why I was bewildered with the ending chapter: ah ha, Dancer gives Ikuo a blow job so they must be in love! What?

What about Ogi? He was not interested in the cult from the start to end but I also felt a bit let down with his treatment in the latter quarter or fifth of the book.
posted by tksh at 1:09 PM on April 26, 2010

Yeah, I don't know. I always forgot about Ogi mostly because I thought Kizu and Ikou were the most interesting parts of the book. I hate to say that I don't even remember what happened with Ogi in the end.

I'm kind of surprised to see how many people hated this book, but I guess if I can't remember what happened to one of the main characters maybe it was as sprawling as people say.
posted by OrangeDrink at 4:16 PM on April 26, 2010

Now that I think about it, you're right, Kizu and Ikou especially were the focus of the book and everyone else was to support them or to further their development. So I guess I shouldn't be surprised to feel hollow about Ogi and Dancer.

Ogi, if I am not reading the ending wrong, felt he no longer needed to help the organisation with the deaths of both Patron and Guide so he left them entirely. In the epilogue, he married Ms. Tsugane and is persuaded by her to write about the cult post-anti-christ with Gi at the helm.

I didn't like the book either, I felt miserable reading about the protagonists.
posted by tksh at 7:38 PM on April 26, 2010

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