A mesmerizing first novel set in Japan--a gripping account of the spiritual crippling of a lonely ten-year-old girl by an uncaring, or oblivious, adult society. This child is Natsuko, victim of her parents' disintegrating marriage, a marriage doomed by a clash of cultures: for Japanese father Kazuo, ""all strength was in conforming""; but English mother Frances is erratic, perhaps suicidal, and her stability gradually shatters against the impervious shield of Japanese social convention, which has no provision for ""the lonely stand of the individual."" So Frances is sent back to England after almost two decades of marriage, and now Kazuo is finally free to absorb the children--Natsuko and her 17-year-old brother RÃœchi--into his Japanese heritage. With RÃœchi he succeeds. But Natsuko, devastated by her mother's absence, RÃœchi's new callousness, and her father's obtuseness, is fearful and unsure. Then into her grief and sulky passivity strides--like the thudding of clubs--housekeeper Hiroko, a young peasant woman of ferocious appetites. . . for sex, for food, for small power gains and casual cruelties. So, while Kazuo and RÃœchi begin a manful relationship, Natsuko is tumbled into the clutches of Hiroko, whose hateful presence is felt even at night when Hiroko enters Kazuo's room. And when she is shunted with latently savage Hiroko to Hiroko's rural home--dark with the gloom of Hiroko's dying mother, chattering strangers, and terrifying old Shojiro, an ugly mute--Natsuko is haunted by terrors (from a dessicated insect to the raw stump of Shojiro's tongue) that become monstrous obsessions. She feels that ""she moves only in dreams,"" she flees from her tormentors in a near-fatal runaway journey, and later, in the hospital, she discovers hate: ""The old shivering Natsuko was gone. . . now she could do whatever she wanted""--she'll get her revenge with a pure hatred for all adults as she triumphs over the ""rot and madness"" of their world. Textured with an oblique commentary on the real and idealized Japan: a chiller that takes its dark and magnetic energy from thunderheads forming in the thin electric ozone of the unloved.