An enigmatic mystery that, serially published and thereafter forgotten until now, cements Tanizaki’s (The Maids, 2017, etc.) claim to be a lost forerunner of postmodernism.
This belongs to a group of three novels that Tanizaki (1886-1965), much rumored in his day to be a candidate for the Nobel Prize, started writing in 1928. As translator Lyons notes in a most helpful afterword, that was just after Akutagawa Ry?nosuke, Tanizaki’s sometime friend and all-the-time rival, committed suicide, an event that both depressed Tanizaki and left him free to take the lead as a writer of stories that, had Alfred Hitchcock been aware of them, might have become internationally renowned films. This is a case in point. A writer, Mizuno, working against hard deadlines, slips up: he uses the name of a rival as the victim of a murder story he’s crafting. Now, if Cojima really turns up dead, suspicion will naturally fall on Mizuno—yet the temptation to do the other writer in on the page is irresistible. A third figure enters into play: the mysterious Shadow Man, who haunts Mizuno as he’s both working and desperately trying to concoct an alibi that involves, among other things, faking an STD (“Between then and around ten he went to the bathroom twice. But it wasn’t easy to pretend he had gonorrhea”). As all this unfolds, the already self-referential story, with life imitating art and art imitating life, begins to chase its own tail in earnest: one of Mizuno’s pages is titled “To the Point of the Murder of the Man Who Wrote ‘To the Point of Murder.’" Tanizaki’s novel ends with a strange thud—it went on well past the planned end date for the serial, he writes, “so I’ve decided to end it here.” One suspects, however, that he’d gotten lost in a hall of mirrors, and so will the reader, all to good ends.
Anyone contemplating writing a plotless novel will want to study this curious, beguiling yarn.