The Decay of the Angel

by Yukio Mishima

Paper Book, 1975





New York, Pocket Books 1975.


During the last years of his life, Honda adopts an orphaned boy and teaches him about Japanese society and tradition.

Media reviews

"a surpassingly chilling, subtle and original novel."
1 more
"The outstanding weakness of this, the final novelistic effort of Mishima Yukio and indeed the major failing of the bulk of his work is its striking inability to rise above the emotional and intellectual limitations of its author." "He is a good writer with a well-developed sense of intrigue and suspense, but he is not a great writer." "Seidensticker's rendering of the final volume is superb and it is a pity that he could not have been persuaded to take on the whole tetralogy."

User reviews

LibraryThing member MeditationesMartini
Mishima started this book after he'd already resolved on suicide. Spiritual desolation pervades its every cranny and squeezes perversity out of everyone who enters its pages. Being is filth, the author has seemingly resolved, and filth is sacred, and the profane cleanliness of Japan will never save him from himself when there is a deeper cleanliness of non-being to draw him inevitably forward. Japan was supposed to save him from himself, but the unbearable aridity of Japaneseness ends up being his pretext for reducing the symphony of growing emotion and power that he's been building since book one to cacophony and then silence. I don't think he wanted to be a samurai at all. I think he wanted to be Jean Genet, a sexy bodhisattva. But his Japaneseness made that impossible: decay ever, fruition never.

Enough psychologizing! Most of this is the story of the sick interaction between a dark vampire of a man and the spirit of malevolence he adopts as a son. The scene where the old people watch Toru and Momoko on the beach must be the most vampiric in all of literature. (Seidensticker as well as Mishima impresses here with his artistry.) Honda, that twisted Horatio, sees Toru disappoint his hopes (we shall avoid spoilers here), and evil briefly reigns. But a dramatic series of reverses follows--the black angel must decay as the benign ones do--the center shall not hold--and the dissolution of the self and the narrative that comes at the end is the most masterful act of self-devouring I've ever seen a work of fiction accomplish. Appropriately, this book relies for much of its power on the three previous volumes in the series, but that doesn't change the fact that by the end you could dissolve into oceanic nothing yourself with--not Kiyoaki's erotic ardour, or Isao's death-and-glory, or Ying Chan's almost absent-minded slipping out of the flesh, or Toru's botched, unintentional self-abnegation, or indeed Mishima's own devoutly wish'd and brutally forc'd consummation--but nothing more than an aesthete's shrug. "Perhaps then there has been no I." There is also Satoko, and Buddhism, and I think a real transendence that I don't know how to talk about, but certainly for Mishima there is foremost the relief of escape from a desiccated self and age.
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LibraryThing member mbmackay
Combined review for Spring Snow, Runaway Horses, The Temple of Dawn and The decay of the Angel - which together make up the Sea of Fertility.
Spring Snow succeeds for me only for its painting of a lost period in Japan - of the privileged and their privileges. In other ways it fails - the obsession with 'elegance' and 'good movements' and 'beauty' leaves me no wiser as the causes and principles involved.
Runaway Horses moves forward 20 years, to a second incarnation of the principal of these stories. Again fails to to convince as the source and power of the obsessions (Japan-ness. ritual suicide etc). At the end, we know they exist, but not why.
The Temple of Dawn is the weakest of the four books with turgid page after turgid page of Buddhist and other religious exposition. Is this a cheap cure for writer's block? The reincarnation this time is as Thai princess. Remarkably, the main character, Honda, becomes a hardcore voyeur halfway through this volume. The voyeuristic writing is good - it is almost as if Mishima wanted to get this writing out, and Honda was the available character!
The Decay of the Angel is the shortest volume (running out of things to say?) and again fails to deliver. The latest incarnation is Angel-like(!). Spare me. The most remarkable aspect is Mishima's ritual suicide on the day he finished writing this last volume. If he was aiming for immortality, all he achieved was a quirky footnote to literary history.
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LibraryThing member kirstiecat
This is really more like a 4 1/2 star novel..but of course Goodreads is a bit limiting at times. In any case, I was really intrigued when I found out that Mishima had committed ritual suicide after this one. There is a great deal more of depth and much less innocence than The Sound of Waves (had you not guessed that by the title, though? I mean, really!) There is also a great deal about the sea and waves in this one nonetheless and parallels with humans and angels. There is madness, delusions, youth, and aging..there is the idea of pure evil and it is quite vivid. But at the end, it's not completely clear how much we as a reader were also deceived and how to sort it all out...which I suppose just makes this novel even more interesting and one to fathom further in future readings.

I like the deeper novels that make you think..the ones rich with a sense of philosophy to ponder and make you wonder about your own beliefs as well. I think this is a great work but I wish that it was at least 100 more pages longer at a minimum to really develop the characters themselves even further. I think the novel at its strengths has some interesting story lines and in terms of the character development, there are some intriguing contrasts but I tend to want more like Dostoevsky would do, for instance. I like to feel like I have epically grown with the characters.

In any case, there are some amazing insights in this novel and it is one I am sure I will come back to as I grow older. The language itself, especially the imagery, is so very vivid that it will not easily be forgotten.

Favorite quotes:

pg 1" Three birds seemed to become one at the top of the sky. Then, in disorder, they separated. There was something wondrous about the meeting and separating. It must mean something, this coming so close that they felt the wind from each other's wings, and then blue distance once more. Three ideas will sometimes join in our hearts."

pg. 13-14 "There had to be a realm where at the limit of all the layers of clarity it was definite that nothing at all made an appearance. a realm of solid, definite indigo, where seeing cast of the shackles of consciousness and itself became transparent, where phenomena and consciousness dissolved like plumbic oxide in acetic acid."

pg 15 "The joy of seeing, where everything was self evident and given, lay only at the invisible horizon, far beyond the sea. Why need there by surprise? Despite the fact that deceit was delivered at every door every morning without fail, like the milk."

"perhaps, he sometimes thought, he was a hydrogen bomb equipped with consciousness. IT was clear in any case that he was not a human being."

pg. 24 "There was a wild restlessness in the long and short lights, as if in among the clusters of solid lights a single light were mad with joy. The voice calling out from afar over the dark sea was like the voice of a madwoman. A metal voice crying out sadly though not sad, pleading an agony of joy."

pg 33 "The voices of children were like splinters of lass. Toru liked to look at people as at animals in a zoo..."

pg 40 "It was like night in a zoo of emotions. Cries and laughter came from all the pens and all the cages."

pg 41 "Rainbows will soon be animals too, at this rate. Rainbow animals."

pg 43 "Sixty years had gone by, as an instant. Something came over him to drive away his consciousness of old age, a sort of pleading, as if he had buried his face in her warm bosom."

pg 55 "Honda said to himself: ' The moment I die they will all go' The thought came to him as a happy one, a sort of revenge. IT would be no trouble at all, tearing this world up by the roots and returning it to the void. All he had to do was die. He took a certain minor pride in the thought that an old man who would be forgotten still had in death this incomparably destructive weapon. For him the five signs of decay held no fear."

pg. 66 "And the watch, solitary in the field of white plastic, carrying on an intercourse almost sexual with the sea, through the day and through the night, intimidated by harbor and ship, until gazing became pure madness. The whiteness, the abandonment of the self, the uncertainty and loneliness were themselves a ship."

pg 87 "Yes. The waves as they broke were a manifest vision of death. It seemed to him that they had to be. They were mouths agape at the moment of death.

Gasping in agony, they trailed numberless threads of saliva. Each purple in the twilight became a livid mouth.

Into the gasping mouth of the sea plunged death. Showing death nakedly time and time again, the sea was like a constabulary. It swiftly disposed of the bodies, hiding them from public gaze."

pg. 101 "Among clouds like antique white clay images of warriors were some that suggested dragons twisting angrily and darkly upward. Some as they lost their shape, were tinged rose. "

pg. 113 'The world does not approve of flying. Wings are dangerous weapons. They invite self destruction before they can be used."

pg. 137 "The shadows were the substance. They had been eaten away by the shadows, by the deep melancholy of a concept. That was not life, thought Honda. It was something less easy to excuse."

pg. 143 "But of course the world feels secure when the monstrous is reality."

pg, 154 "I suppose that thus thus rolling in the dark a woman feels only the wheel that runs over her."

pg. 209-210 "Senility was a proper ailment of both the spirit and the flesh, and the fact that senility was an incurable disease meant that existence was an incurable disease. It was a disease unrelated to existentialist theories, the flesh itself being the disease, latent death.

History knew the truth. History was the most inhuman product of humanity.It scooped up the whole of human will and, like the goddess Kali in Calcutta, dripped blood from its mouth as it bit and crunched."

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LibraryThing member chrisadami
The last volume of the "Sea of Fertility" series. Mishima committed suicide on the day that he delivered the manuscript to his publisher (by first trying to overthrow the government, and committing seppukku after this failed and he was cornered). Again a different translator, but this one reads well. Here's an excerpt:

"The sea lost its serenity. Even as it rose it broke at the skirts, and ragged spurts of white from its high belly like a call of inexpressible sorrow became a sharply smooth yet infinitely cracked glass, like a vast spray. As it rose and broke, the forelocks were combed a beautiful white, and as it fell it showed the neatly arrayed blue-white of its crown, and the lines of white became a solid field of white; and so it fell, like a severed head."… (more)
LibraryThing member amerynth
I'm sad to say that Yukio Mishima's tetralogy "The Sea of Fertility" started out brilliantly but then fizzled in the later books. I can say the fourth and final book "The Decay of the Angel" was at lest better than the dismal third book.

This time Honda has found a 16-year-old boy he believes is his reincarnated friend Kiyo. He adopts him as his heir with disastrous results.

I honestly just didn't really enjoy this story or find it particularly interesting. It picked up steam in the last few dozen pages but the first half the book just felt long and tedious.
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LibraryThing member missizicks
This was the weakest in the tetralogy for me. Compared with the previous three books, it felt very slight and in a hurry to tie things up. The prose, as ever, is exquisite. The characters are unpleasant in the extreme. Honda and Keiko have distilled to their manipulative worst in old age. Tōru, the boy Honda believes to be the latest incarnation of childhood friend Kiyoaki, is a sub-Valmont, bent on causing pain to people because he can. In a way, it is a fitting end to the cycle, leaving doubt about what, if anything, is true in Honda's 60 year pursuit of meaning and redemption. I just wish it had felt less hurried to sew things up.… (more)
LibraryThing member missizicks
This was the weakest in the tetralogy for me. Compared with the previous three books, it felt very slight and in a hurry to tie things up. The prose, as ever, is exquisite. The characters are unpleasant in the extreme. Honda and Keiko have distilled to their manipulative worst in old age. Tōru, the boy Honda believes to be the latest incarnation of childhood friend Kiyoaki, is a sub-Valmont, bent on causing pain to people because he can. In a way, it is a fitting end to the cycle, leaving doubt about what, if anything, is true in Honda's 60 year pursuit of meaning and redemption. I just wish it had felt less hurried to sew things up.… (more)
LibraryThing member ToddSherman
"There is nothing in the least special about you. I guarantee you a long life. You have not been chosen by the gods, you will never be at one with your acts, you do not have in you the green light to flash like young lightning with the speed of the gods and destroy yourself. All you have is a certain premature senility. Your life will be suited for coupon-clipping. Nothing more."

--The Decay of the Angel by Yukio Mishima

Holy Krakatoa, that's some stiff medicine, Mishima. Or poison. While not my favorite book of the tetralogy, it is a worthy culmination. A slow rotting and realization over time. Maybe quick self-destruction should be left to those with passion and the acrid bite from years by acid at the bottom of the throat.
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LibraryThing member hemlokgang
Oi! A complex fourth novel in the "Sea of Fertility" tetralogy has my head spinning. Mishima's prose is lyrical and mystical and evocative. The themes of reincarnation, cultural and personal decay, and coming to terms with death continue from the previous novels. The protagonist, Honda, believes he has found yet another reincarnation of his friend, Mitsugae. Then good and evil battle each other until the entire plot twists and throws all beliefs into question. Is the title a reference to each of us being angels who decay with time? Are all of us fallen angels? The reader I is left with all the existential, philosophical questions unanswered. Somehow it all works.… (more)




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