Earthlings: A Novel

by Sayaka Murata

Other authorsGinny Tapley Takemori (Translator)
Hardcover, 2020

Status

Available

Publication

Grove Press (2020), 240 pages

Description

"As a child, Natsuki doesn't fit into her family. Her parents favor her sister, and her best friend is a plush toy hedgehog named Piyyut who has explained to her that he has come from the planet Popinpobopia on a special quest to help her save the Earth. Each summer, Natsuki counts down the days until her family drives into the mountains of Nagano to visit her grandparents in their wooden house in the forest. One summer, her cousin Yuu confides to Natsuki that he is an extraterrestrial, and Natsuki starts to wonder if she might be an alien too. Later, as a married woman, Natsuki feels forced to fit in to a society she deems a "baby factory" but wonders if there is more to the world than the mundane reality everyone else seems to accept. The answers are out there, and Natsuki has the power to find them. Dreamlike, sometimes shocking, and always strange and wonderful, Earthlings asks what it means to be happy in a stifling world, and cements Sayaka Murata's status as a master chronicler of the outsider experience and our own uncanny universe"--… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member sturlington
A disturbing book about the trauma of abuse that just gets more and more bizarre as it goes on, although Murata writes in such a matter-of-fact style that it helps with acceptance of that weirdness. The descriptions are quite graphic and may be triggering for some. I thought this was another
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interesting take on alienation from society in the same vein as Convenience Store Woman, although I found it to be much more pessimistic and bleak.
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LibraryThing member RealLifeReading
I don’t know where to begin with this book. Perhaps I should start with, it’s not for the faint of heart. It is intense. It is full of taboos. There is abuse. And so very much more. And there is the way the mind works to handle all this trauma. It is, in its strange way, about survival. Don’t
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be fooled by that kawaii cover.

The story opens with a young Natsuki, age 11, who is convinced that her stuffed hedgehog is an alien from Popinpobopia. She shares this with her cousin Yuu, who is also her boyfriend, when they meet in the mountains at a family gathering.

(Something happens at this gathering but I don’t want to unleash any spoilers). But after the first two chapters, we fast-forward to Natsuki at age 34. She’s married, but to someone who has a similar mindset, both of them feeling alienated from society, preferring to believe that they themselves are aliens.

“Everyone believed in the Factory. Everyone was brainwashed by the Factory and did as they were told. They all used their reproductive organs for the Factory and did their jobs for the sake of the Factory. My husband and I were people they’d failed to brainwash, and anyone who remained unbrainwashed had to keep up an act in order to avoid being eliminated by the Factory.”

Natsuki and her husband return to the mountains where Yuu is staying and the three of them decide to train to avoid becoming Earthlings, to come up with their own ideas for living on a planet that isn’t their own. And it descends into something shocking and bizarre, that, as I said, isn’t for the faint of heart.

“I want to use the form of the novel to conduct experiments,” Murata once said in an interview. And this is one extremely outrageous experimental story. Yet to be honest, is it really all that outlandish? The trauma that a young girl experiences from the various abuses she suffers, from people who ought to be her defenders, has led her to believe that she’s not of this earth. For who would want to be, if you were in her shoes? And that feeling of being alienated, not fitting into the norms of society, is something many of us can relate to, I reckon, although the three characters take it to such an extreme level.

Earthlings is an uncomfortable read, it’s dark and twisted. It’s not for everyone. I hesitate to say “read this” because I know some are likely to be put off by, well, many parts. But for me, it was something I couldn’t stop reading. It’s way out of the box and unconventional but well, this past year has been anything but ordinary. Maybe I just needed something extremely bizarre to kick off my 2021 reading. Whatever the reason, Earthlings is a book I’m definitely not going to forget.
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LibraryThing member MandaTheStrange
"Survive, no matter what."

Murata's Convenience Store Woman was my favourite read last year, I indulged and finished the book in a single sitting. It was unique and unsettling and spoke to me on many levels. I was prepared for Earthlings to be a tad different but it was absolutely outrageous. I had
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literally no idea where Murata was heading with it and I freakin' loved it.

I was going to try and devour this one slowly but I finished the book in two glorious sittings. Without giving anything away I particularly loved how Murata dealt with the theme of trauma and the side effect of dissociation. A single trigger warning for this book is almost laughable as it breaks a lot of rules so I wouldn't recommend this if you're not a fan of exploring darker themes and morbid humour.

Murata really pushes the boundaries with this one but I think for my fellow adventurous readers out there, you're going to love it. I hope Murata continues to write in this completely untamed way where nothing is off-limits.
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LibraryThing member hemlokgang
An astonishing tale of survival, disassociation, and social commentary. Meet 3 young people, traumatized, alienated, and trying to survive in a highly organized society. Their collective belief is that they are aliens on earth, trying not to become brainwashed by socially sanctioned expectations to
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procreate. It is thought provoking and disturbing in its clear attempt to illustrate the inhuman constraints society can impose on life. Murata is highly skilled in the art of creative, socially conscious storytelling. I also was struck by this writer's gifts after reading "Convenient Store Woman". Bizarrely uplifting while also despairing. No small feat in literature!
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LibraryThing member kitlovestea
I don't even know how to rate this. It was so weird and definitely not for the faint of heart. It starts out as a story about kids with unusual coping methods for really horrible situations and ends all kinds of sideways with these kids taking their coping mechanisms into an adulthood where they're
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wildly maladaptive. The simple prose and the way the character frames her actions makes everything seem perfectly mundane even while the situations a very bleak. It reminds me of Otessa Moshfegh's Eileen, in the sense that you can see that the characters have a rocky relationship to morality (at least human morality).

If you're into delirious trips into slowly mutating human psyches, as told from the perspective of an incredibly unreliable narrator who could use some therapy instead of magical girl manga, this book is for you. I devoured this book in s pro it's of mtself. A Warning to the wise, the features child abuse in all forms, incest, and cannibalism. Take care if you're planning on reading it
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LibraryThing member Kathl33n
What a very strange book. Lots of taboo subject matter. The story follows the main character as a 12 year old and then picks up with her as an adult. As in the author's other book, Convenience Store Woman, the main character is very outside the main stream and refuses ( or can't) live life as
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expected. In this book I think that could have been portrayed without so much of the weird. The over-the-top weird pulled me out of the book and brought me away from the message I think the author was trying to make about societal norms?
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LibraryThing member Perednia
Exceptionally absurdist. Definitely not for the faint of heart.
LibraryThing member miss.mesmerized
Natsuki has never really fit in, her mother favours her sister and tells her constantly that she is a nuisance and good for nothing. When her teacher first touches her inappropriately, her mother does not only not believe her but accuses her of falsely allege misconduct. Thus, she keeps quiet, even
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when she is assaulted. Her way of coping with the situation is getting mentally detached, she has the impression of leaving her body which helps her to cope. Only her cousin Yuu can understand her, just like she herself, he lives in a complicated family and is convinced not to be an earthling since all the people around him behave strangely and don’t understand him. An incident forces this relationship to break up and to isolate Natsuki and Yuu, only after more than two decades will they meet again and their childhood experiences clearly left their marks on them.

“It’s handy having a dumpster in the house. In this house, that’s my role. When Dad and Mom and Kise get so fed up they can’t bear it any longer, they dump everything onto me.”

Reading Sayaka Murata's novel really brought me to my emotional limits. Even before the actual abuse by her teacher, seeing the dysfunctional family and the mother's inhuman behaviour towards her daughter is hard to endure. Also her sister who not only does not show any empathy but quite the contrary, actively contributes to Natsuki’s poor state. She is the typical vulnerable child highly at risk of falling prey to molesters. Being beaten by her parents, not experiencing any love or physical attachment, the fact that she is not believed and does not get any help when in need, sadly fits perfectly into the picture.

“Before I knew it, I had turned thirty-four, (...) Even after all the time, I still wasn’t living my life so much as simply surviving.”

It might seem strange that Natsuki as well as Yuu come to believe that they must be aliens and that they increasingly estrange from the humans around them. However, this is just a psychological trick played by their brain to help them to cope and quite understandable. From a psychological point of view, this is extremely authentically narrated.

“It was the out-of-body power. Before I knew what was happening, I had left my body the way I had the day of the summer festival and was watching myself.”

There is no relief when they grow up. The society they live in does not allow individuals to live according to their own conception but expects them to function for the majority's benefit and not to step out of line. Finding a matching partner first bring Natsuki the possibility of fleeing her family, yet, it was to be expected that their small bubble was not meant to last.

An extremely sad read which definitely is not suitable for everyone. Nevertheless, I'd highly recommend it due to the authentic portray of the effect such experiences can have and to show that quite often victims do not find any help but are even blamed for what happens to them.
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LibraryThing member AliceaP
This book has somehow managed to pack every single trigger warning into a short amount of pages. [Check the bottom of the review for the spoiler-y warnings.] This is a very disturbing book. There's no way to get around that this is a mind f***.

On the surface, this seems to be the story of a young
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woman who feels that she cannot possibly be an Earthling as the ideals, emotions, and motivations that those around her possess are essentially "alien" to her in every sense of the word. She views society as a Factory that only exists to create more Factory components (kids) and that if you are not a contributing member who is good at their work and churning out babies then you are faulty and will be killed. But this belief, which if she possessed it alone would be harmless, is not hers alone and the consequences are extreme (and described with maybe too much relish and detail).

A thoroughly disturbing tale of a young person who is maltreated and when she does find a glimmer of happiness it is stamped out. I have no idea how to characterize this book or how to rate it. I think that the metaphor of the world being like a Factory was very poignant and resonated with me as a single individual uninterested in conforming to the ideals of society. But then the author ran with that concept into a dark abyss to which I almost wish I hadn't followed.

Don't read this right before bedtime.

**SPOILER ALERT!!!** This book contains sexual abuse of a minor, child abuse (physical, mental, & emotional), incest, suicidal ideation, and finally cannibalism.
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LibraryThing member RealLifeReading
I don’t know where to begin with this book. Perhaps I should start with, it’s not for the faint of heart. It is intense. It is full of taboos. There is abuse. And so very much more. And there is the way the mind works to handle all this trauma. It is, in its strange way, about survival. Don’t
Show More
be fooled by that kawaii cover.

The story opens with a young Natsuki, age 11, who is convinced that her stuffed hedgehog is an alien from Popinpobopia. She shares this with her cousin Yuu, who is also her boyfriend, when they meet in the mountains at a family gathering.

(Something happens at this gathering but I don’t want to unleash any spoilers). But after the first two chapters, we fast-forward to Natsuki at age 34. She’s married, but to someone who has a similar mindset, both of them feeling alienated from society, preferring to believe that they themselves are aliens.

“Everyone believed in the Factory. Everyone was brainwashed by the Factory and did as they were told. They all used their reproductive organs for the Factory and did their jobs for the sake of the Factory. My husband and I were people they’d failed to brainwash, and anyone who remained unbrainwashed had to keep up an act in order to avoid being eliminated by the Factory.”

Natsuki and her husband return to the mountains where Yuu is staying and the three of them decide to train to avoid becoming Earthlings, to come up with their own ideas for living on a planet that isn’t their own. And it descends into something shocking and bizarre, that, as I said, isn’t for the faint of heart.

“I want to use the form of the novel to conduct experiments,” Murata once said in an interview. And this is one extremely outrageous experimental story. Yet to be honest, is it really all that outlandish? The trauma that a young girl experiences from the various abuses she suffers, from people who ought to be her defenders, has led her to believe that she’s not of this earth. For who would want to be, if you were in her shoes? And that feeling of being alienated, not fitting into the norms of society, is something many of us can relate to, I reckon, although the three characters take it to such an extreme level.

Earthlings is an uncomfortable read, it’s dark and twisted. It’s not for everyone. I hesitate to say “read this” because I know some are likely to be put off by, well, many parts. But for me, it was something I couldn’t stop reading. It’s way out of the box and unconventional but well, this past year has been anything but ordinary. Maybe I just needed something extremely bizarre to kick off my 2021 reading. Whatever the reason, Earthlings is a book I’m definitely not going to forget.
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LibraryThing member RandyMetcalfe
Beware. Here be monsters.

Don’t let the cutesy childish narrator and idyllic setting of the opening chapter prompt you to let down your guard. This is not an anime for children. What follows will horrify you. Chapter by chapter, it catalogues the worst of whatever you can imagine people doing to
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each: sexual abuse of a child, murder, incest, brutality, infidelity, revenge, even cannibalism. That said, it does make for curiously compelling reading.

The principle protagonist, Natsuki, is first introduced to us as a highly imaginative 11-year-old. She is harshly used by her older sister and her mother. But she seems to have a great deal of inner resources. However, even at this early point her survival mechanism is to dissociate, so much so that it is hard to know what she perceives as real. We see Natsuki at different ages, but increasingly she has to make greater and greater leaps of imagination to make her life bearable. Indeed, by the time we see her as an adult, it is increasingly improbable that she could persist in normal society without being found out. Fortunately she finds someone equally troubled and together they mask their inability to deal with the real world. However, eventually the real world — here often referred to as the “Factory” — catches up with them. And only a further leap into the extreme can result.

After the first chapter which was sickly sweet, I found this novel very hard to stomach. But it did have a grinding logic. I don’t think I could recommend to anyone, at least not without the warning with which I began this review.

Very grim reading.
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LibraryThing member Dreesie
Well that was...interesting. First, this book gets all the trigger warnings. If you search out trigger warnings, avoid this one. (childhood abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, violence, cannibalism)

Natsuki, the main character in this book, is in many ways very similar to the main character in
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[book:Convenience Store Woman|38357895]. She has no interest in being a cog of society. As a child--a child who was mentally abused by her mother and sister--she came to believe she did not fit in. As an abused child, she was targeted by a pedophile, and her mother did not believe her. Natsuki got her revenge. As a child, her best friend (and "husband") was her cousin Yuu, who had a strange relationship with his mother and had decided he was an alien.

Twenty years later Natsuki is in a marriage of convenience to a man who also does not fit in. All of their parents are happy, though. But when they go to visit Yuu at their grandparents' old place, all three of these 30-somethings decide to drop out of society and hope to get back to their home planet. And then the story gets really disturbing.

I very much enjoyed the first half of this novel. The girl who doesn't fit in, the girl who perseveres despite being rejected by her mother and sister. Her and Yuu's friendship may be a bit wierd, but they see each other once a year and are both misfits of a sort. Natsuki's marriage and strange arrangements--fine. People do what they need to do. But when the three of them drop out and, essentially, go feral, I lost interest. Is this an allegory flying over my head? A case of group mental illness? Fungus/bacterial poisoning from the old and stolen food they are eating? I can't really take this seriously without some sort of reasoning/logic. And there isn't any.
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LibraryThing member RidgewayGirl
This is by Sakaya Murata, who wrote the oddly charming Convenience Store Woman. While both novels share a certain off-beat quirkiness and both feature a protagonist who has difficulty conforming to what modern Japanese society requires of them, Earthlings is a far darker novel.

Natsuki loves her
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family's annual visit to her grandparents' house in the mountains. She gets to spend time with her cousins, especially Yuu, and it's where her parents' clear preference for her sister is less obvious. After buying a small stuffed hedgehog toy, Natsuki decides that he's an alien and he can teach her how to be a witch. This is necessary, since not only is her home a hostile place, her teacher is sexually abusing her. It's only her relationship with Yuu that keeps her going. When that is taken away, Natsuki must find ways to survive in a world that asks that she conform and submit.

Despite Natsuki having an imaginative and whimsical approach to the world, this is a dark story that gets darker as the story progresses, heading into Grand Guignol. There's meaty stuff here in how this novel looks at the demands of society and how it pushes people to marry and settle into a marriage within specific parameters that include procreation. Murata is revisiting the themes of Convenience Store Woman, but from a different angle and with more force. Expect to be made uncomfortable.
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LibraryThing member SamSattler
Where do you even begin when you want to describe the experience of reading a book like Sayaka Murata’s Earthlings? I’m a reader who, over a lifetime of reading that spans decades, has read thousands of novels, but Earthlings may just be the most stunningly horrifying one I’ve ever read.
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Think of the most universal cultural taboos there are, the ones shared across the globe, and it is likely that Murata has made them part of the story she tells in Earthlings about a little Japanese girl who fights so hard not to become part of her country’s “baby factory.” This is a coming-of-age novel like none you have ever read — or will want to read again.

Eleven-year-old Natsuki is a misfit whose mother reminds her every day that she is inferior to her sister in all the ways that count. That’s bad enough but, unfortunately, it is not the only kind of abuse that Natsuki suffers. Things gets even worse for her after a handsome young teacher at her school begins to give her private lessons outside normal school hours. So it is little wonder that Natsuki’s best friend, the only one she can confide in, is a plush hedgehog-looking toy she’s named Piyyut who tells her that he has come from the planet Popinpobopia to help her save the Earth. As her mother will make very clear to her, no one else will help Natsuki.

Thoroughly traumatized by her childhood experiences, Natsuki grows into exactly the damaged and disturbed young woman she was destined to become. But members of her family, and her few friends, have no idea just how disturbed she really is. Nor do they realize that Natsuki has attracted two kindred souls who are every bit as disturbed as she is — two young men who are as determined as Natsuki not to give in to Japan’s cultural restrictions or the government’s pressure to reproduce for the good of the nation.

Bottom Line: That is the gist of the plot of Earthlings, but it is not what makes the novel so horrifying or difficult to read. The real horror, instead, comes from Murata’s detailed and explicit descriptions of the abuses suffered by Natsuki and the ways that she responds to the abuses she suffers. The author uses the same calm, straightforward prose style, almost a clinical approach, throughout the novel no matter what situation she is describing. And, somehow, that makes it all even more horrifying than it already is. I don’t think I’m exaggerating to say that reading Earthlings requires a strong stomach. Almost despite myself, I had to keep reading this one long enough to see how it would end — and what an ending it turns out to be.
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LibraryThing member write-review
From Deep Inner Space

Do you sometimes feel as if you are an alien in this world; that rather than being a part of society, or even wanting to be part of it, you find more comfort in observing it and your maneuvers through it as something of a third-party? And, further, did some trauma in your life,
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whether it be sibling rivalry or something greater, like sexual abuse, and even more, abuse that you could never reveal to anyone for fear of disbelief, perhaps, worse force you to exist within your inner space?

If so, then you will find Sayaka Murata’s protagonists Natsuki, her cousin Yuu, and her hikikomori husband Tomoya easy to identify with, though their extremism might be a bit much even for you. Murata’s novel encompasses a lot of societal issues, maybe some of them unique to Japanese culture, but many universal. Among the primary are alienation, rejection (both of and by society), and a seemingly impossible quest for a unique kind of self-actualization and life lived on your own terms. All this, too, in about 250 pages. For the right readers, this will be an amazing experience, while others will simply find it a head scratcher or just plain gross, particularly the last pages.

The novel divides into two parts. In the first, we meet Natsuki as an eleven-year-old girl. She appears typical but her home life is distressing. Her older sister receives her parents’ attention. They are deferential to all the sister’s whims, while criticizing Natsuki constantly, giving her the impression that life would be better without her. Compounding this later is her cram teacher, Mr. Igasaki. He is a university student who teaches part-time and highly regarded by everyone, including her small circle of girlfriends, who consider him sexy. He takes a special interest in Natsuki, grooms her, then sexually abuses her. When she tries telling her mother, her mother accuses her of being difficult. When she tries telling her best friend, she’s met with disbelief and then, worse, the accusation she brought it on herself. She only finds solace with her cousin Yuu, whom she sees at the extended family’s annual Obon festival gathering at the her grandparents’ house in the mountains. Her other solace is escapism in the form of imagining herself from another planet, Popinpobopia, an alien in this world. Her plush toy Piyyut becomes more for you than a comforting toy, but an extension of her inner yearnings, arming her with magical powers allowing her to resist the unpleasantness of the real world, and then, to carry out an act of revenge. Yuu, her soulmate, also suffers alienation issues, and they form a marriage pact that culminations in an act landing them both in serious trouble, with lifelong consequences.

The novel jumps years ahead in the second part to when Natsuki is in her early thirties. We find her in a marriage of convenience with Tomoya, whom she met on a specialized website for the hikikomori (a subculture phenomena that has received much attention in Japan). This marriage excludes everything people would consider normal and essential in marriage, but it works for these two aliens. Eventually, she and Tomoya find their way to the mountain home, where she reunites with Yuu, and where the three of them set up a household of sorts, satisfied to be isolated from the world, exchanging ideas on their alienation and their alien world of Popinpobopia. Here ensue some of the strangest extensions of their alienation from a society they refer to as the factory, where regimentation, control, and production, including reproduction, are the keynotes. While for them, their phantasmagoric construction provides ultimate satisfaction, for the outside world it is nothing but incomprehensible horror.

And that’s only the half of it. For the right readers, Earthlings will be quite the experience.
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LibraryThing member write-review
From Deep Inner Space

Do you sometimes feel as if you are an alien in this world; that rather than being a part of society, or even wanting to be part of it, you find more comfort in observing it and your maneuvers through it as something of a third-party? And, further, did some trauma in your life,
Show More
whether it be sibling rivalry or something greater, like sexual abuse, and even more, abuse that you could never reveal to anyone for fear of disbelief, perhaps, worse force you to exist within your inner space?

If so, then you will find Sayaka Murata’s protagonists Natsuki, her cousin Yuu, and her hikikomori husband Tomoya easy to identify with, though their extremism might be a bit much even for you. Murata’s novel encompasses a lot of societal issues, maybe some of them unique to Japanese culture, but many universal. Among the primary are alienation, rejection (both of and by society), and a seemingly impossible quest for a unique kind of self-actualization and life lived on your own terms. All this, too, in about 250 pages. For the right readers, this will be an amazing experience, while others will simply find it a head scratcher or just plain gross, particularly the last pages.

The novel divides into two parts. In the first, we meet Natsuki as an eleven-year-old girl. She appears typical but her home life is distressing. Her older sister receives her parents’ attention. They are deferential to all the sister’s whims, while criticizing Natsuki constantly, giving her the impression that life would be better without her. Compounding this later is her cram teacher, Mr. Igasaki. He is a university student who teaches part-time and highly regarded by everyone, including her small circle of girlfriends, who consider him sexy. He takes a special interest in Natsuki, grooms her, then sexually abuses her. When she tries telling her mother, her mother accuses her of being difficult. When she tries telling her best friend, she’s met with disbelief and then, worse, the accusation she brought it on herself. She only finds solace with her cousin Yuu, whom she sees at the extended family’s annual Obon festival gathering at the her grandparents’ house in the mountains. Her other solace is escapism in the form of imagining herself from another planet, Popinpobopia, an alien in this world. Her plush toy Piyyut becomes more for you than a comforting toy, but an extension of her inner yearnings, arming her with magical powers allowing her to resist the unpleasantness of the real world, and then, to carry out an act of revenge. Yuu, her soulmate, also suffers alienation issues, and they form a marriage pact that culminations in an act landing them both in serious trouble, with lifelong consequences.

The novel jumps years ahead in the second part to when Natsuki is in her early thirties. We find her in a marriage of convenience with Tomoya, whom she met on a specialized website for the hikikomori (a subculture phenomena that has received much attention in Japan). This marriage excludes everything people would consider normal and essential in marriage, but it works for these two aliens. Eventually, she and Tomoya find their way to the mountain home, where she reunites with Yuu, and where the three of them set up a household of sorts, satisfied to be isolated from the world, exchanging ideas on their alienation and their alien world of Popinpobopia. Here ensue some of the strangest extensions of their alienation from a society they refer to as the factory, where regimentation, control, and production, including reproduction, are the keynotes. While for them, their phantasmagoric construction provides ultimate satisfaction, for the outside world it is nothing but incomprehensible horror.

And that’s only the half of it. For the right readers, Earthlings will be quite the experience.
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LibraryThing member booklove2
Okey, I knew this book would be weird but what the heck did I just read?!?! Wow. When I first saw this book, I knew I would read it based on that cover! The toy hedgehog! I gravitated to the book, since I also have a tiny stuffed hedgehog that I'm fond of that I bought in elementary school and is
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still hanging around today-- it sat near the book while I read it. That little hedgehog on the cover holds quite a place within the book but luckily the similarities end there between this book and my life. With a breezy quick writing style, it's easy to fall into this bizarro narrative. I won't say anything else about it to spoil anything...
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LibraryThing member richardderus
Rating: 4* of five

The Publisher Says: From the beloved author of cult sensation Convenience Store Woman, which has now sold more than a million copies worldwide, comes a spellbinding and otherworldly novel about a young girl who believes she is an alien

As a child, Natsuki doesn’t fit into her
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family. Her parents favor her sister, and her best friend is a plush toy hedgehog named Piyyut who has explained to her that he has come from the planet Popinpobopia on a special quest to help her save the Earth. Each summer, Natsuki counts down the days until her family drives into the mountains of Nagano to visit her grandparents in their wooden house in the forest, a place that couldn’t be more different from her grey commuter town. One summer, her cousin Yuu confides to Natsuki that he is an extraterrestrial and that every night he searches the sky for the spaceship that might take him back to his home planet. Natsuki wonders if she might be an alien too.

Back in her city home, Natsuki is scolded or ignored and even preyed upon by a young teacher at her cram school. As she grows up in a hostile, violent world, she consoles herself with memories of her time with Yuu and discovers a surprisingly potent inner power. Natsuki seems forced to fit into a society she deems a “baby factory” but even as a married woman she wonders if there is more to this world than the mundane reality everyone else seems to accept. The answers are out there, and Natsuki has the power to find them.

Dreamlike, sometimes shocking, and always strange and wonderful, Earthlings asks what it means to be happy in a stifling world, and cements Sayaka Murata’s status as a master chronicler of the outsider experience and our own uncanny universe.

I RECEIVED A DRC FROM THE PUBLISHER VIA NETGALLEY. THANK YOU.

My Review
: If you go read my 2019 review of Convenience Store Woman, you will probably wonder why I asked for this DRC. I was impressed by Author Murata's very pointed prose and her determined, dogged almost, pursuit of delineating characters who violate every.single.standard. of maleness and femaleness in Japanese society. I think of that as the most successful part of both Murata's earlier, and this, novel.
"I must use my magical powers to stay alive," she thinks, "I must become empty. I must obey."

–and–

Grown ups had it tough, too, I thought. Miss Shinozuka functioned well enough as one of society’s tools, but maybe wasn’t functioning properly as one of society’s reproductive organs.

She was in the position of educating me and ruled over me, but at the same time she herself was also being judged as a tool of society.
This time, a female character isn't simply alienated, unable to find Woman inside herself. This time, Natsuki is actually a vessel for an alien. (Or so she's decided after her cousin Yuu tells her he's from another planet...in playful terms that she does not get.) She then decides that her role is as an emissary from that planet, and reports to her handler via Piyyut, one of her stuffed toys. It's another level of weird, y'all. It's disturbing, it's startling, it's just damned strange.
I hadn’t told my family, but I was a magician, a real one with actual magical powers. I’d met Piyyut in the supermarket by the station when I was six and had just started elementary school. He was right on the edge of the soft toy display and looked as though he was about to be thrown out. I bought him with the money I’d received at New Year’s. Piyyut was the one who’d given me my magical objects and powers. He was from Planet Popinpobopia. The Magic Police had found out that Earth was facing a crisis and had sent him on a mission to save our planet. Since then I’d been using the powers he’d given me to protect the Earth.

–and–

I hugged my backpack to me. Inside it was my origami magic wand and my magical transformation mirror. At the very top of the backpack was my best friend, Piyyut, who gave me these magical objects. Piyyut can’t speak human since the evil forces put a spell on him, but he’s looking after me so I won’t get carsick.
So of course, this is where I buy in and get ready for the ride. Translator Tapley Takemori is gonna let off the verbal incendiaries!
Love is a drug made in the brain to enable humans to mate. It’s simply an anesthetic. In other words, it’s an illusion made to prettify the painful mating act, to reduce the suffering and disgust of the sexual act. We might be able to use this anesthetic if we’re ever in pain. But for now I don’t think it’s necessary.

–and–

The Baby Factory produces humans connected by flesh and blood… Once shipped out, male and female humans are trained how to take food back to their own nests. They become society’s tools, receive money from other humans and purchase food. Eventually these young humans aso form breeding pairs, coop themselves up in new nests, and manufacture more babies.
The fact is I don't entirely disagree with Natsuki...society, as presently constituted, is a Baby Factory. She lives through a dreadful, abusive childhood and the blighting horror of an unloving mother. She still manages to make herself get married to a man, a boring, ordinary man, whose mother is clear-sighted and indifferent to her husband, a loutish and judgmental lump we'd call a redneck in the US.
"Look, Tomoya. Do it a lot and make a family, then once the relationship has cooled, you play around outside of marriage. That's the way it is for lots of couples, isn't it? Playing around is a man's reward. Your father has had his fair share, haven't you dear?"

–and–

"I hate people who insist on their rights while neglecting their duty."
Tomoya, their son, is what these days we'd identify as a demisexual. Here in the US he'd find increasing support for that variant identity. Not in Japan. Tomoya and Natsuki find each other on an anti-dating site and enter into a consensually sexless marriage. At least, if they're married, they reason the families will finally stop making their lives hell about it. Of course, then comes baby talk. Predictable, no? Well...that is how Author Murata rolls. She does the expected, the predictable, and lards it into the weird and the uncomfortable. At the end of the story, things have happened to Natsuki and things have passed her by; it's really not obvious to me that her world is not, in fact, reality seen from an unexpected angle. Some of the most uncomfortable scenes and subplots...can one have subplots in this kind of narrative, digressive and discursive but more or less chronological?...are clear and honest bashings of the patriarchal society we have allowed to rule over us for far too long. There is violence and there is horror, but it is nothing you haven't read before and is probably more powerful for that. Because, in this story, those sharp blades of rage are all rising from a garlic-flavored custard, a durian-marmalade slathered slice of toast, a radish you find inside your cupcake.

What a way to spend a day. Immersed in a soup of very, very maladjusted people. People whose full strangeness isn't even dented by what I've said so far, what I've quoted. There are some shocks to your system headed your way when you choose to read a Sayaka Murata novel, that's part of the reason one does it. This time, I give the read more stars than Convenience Store Woman because Natsuki's struggles with overcoming her deeply unhappy childhood and her maladaptive attempts to "fit in" are so reminiscent of Vigdis Hjorth's Johanna in the review above. They aren't in any cosmetic or surface way alike...Johanna's mental illness is from a similar source but is NOT dealt with internally through the fantastical inventions of Natsuki...but these women, betrayed by those whose job it was to protect them and abused for daring to try to be their authentic selves, deal with it all internally. Outward signs aren't visible to the people who don't look at them properly. We, the readers, are privy to things we want to believe would make a happier outcome for these women.

But I will bet you money that, given access to our point of view, no one in these two women's ambit would change their damaging behavior in any significant way. Nor would the women themselves. Ultimately that led what was for reader-me an almost-five-star review to drop to a solid four stars of five. I wasn't put off by Author Murata's weirdness. It was the helpless and hopeless ethos of the story that, in the end, dimmed the anarchic luster of the prose.

Tragedies are so much more interesting than comedies, no?
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LibraryThing member tuusannuuska
Honestly, I'm not sure how I feel about this book. It was difficult to read at times, it was relatable at times, and it was batshit at times. One thing I'll say though: if you find trigger warnings useful, please look them up for this book before picking this up.
LibraryThing member Yuki-Onna
A surreal, dreamlike read about childhoods full of abuse - emotional, mostly, but not exclusively – and how that shapes the future of the people affected.
Natsuki is a pensive child who feels she doesn't fit in – into her family as a child, into society and human life as an adult. The childhood
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friendship/relationship with her cousin Yuu and her family's reaction to an occurence on a summer night affects & alters her whole life.
Disconnectedness, aliens, humanity, sexuality, escapism, pressures and expectations of society, family ties gone wrong, fertility, different ways of perception, dreams, murder, detatchedness, pure concepts of life on this planet, delusion, cannibalism all blend together in this brutal disgusting gorgeous gem of a book. Dark, brave, gritty.
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LibraryThing member BibliophageOnCoffee
Perfect for people who enjoy books that get progressively stranger and end with a bang. Just don't read the last chapter before dinner. I think I liked this book even more than Convenience Store Woman.
LibraryThing member JJbooklvr
This walks up the line of how far you think you should go, looks at it, and then jumps over it and never looks back. Utterly unique and forces you to look at societal norms in a different way. Not for the squeamish but so worth reading.
LibraryThing member modioperandi
Thanks to Netgalley for my ARC.

Sayaka Murata has spun a deeply troubling strange and dark novel. The story centers around an abused girl, Natsuki and by turns strange and repulsive Murata tells a tell about coping and fitting in once the ability to cope or deal with life has been shattered by
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abuse. It is a critique of Japanese culture by that angle it is a critique of capitalism and the sorts of values that it creates within society. However Earthlings does this by means of a story that is all together, as a whole, deeply repulsive. Murtata's main character, the young girl, Natsuki, who grows up into adulthood, has some beautiful passages with and musings and strange coping mechanism to deal with the abuse of every sort set upon her by her parents, a teacher, and society at large.

In order to deal with bad things, Natsuki takes refuge in the world of make believe kid magic. She is a magic girl and can even leave her body if necessary. During the summer holidays, in the house of her grandparents, where the whole family appears for the Obon festival, she meets her cousin / friend / lover and they find out that he comes from another planet and will soon be picked up again. Imagination will help the children to deal with what lies ahead. But in the most twisted way possible.

This mechanism, that not not adapting, to the world that so often is set against victims of abuse - those who do not adapt to a world that they cannot fathom fitting into is an interesting angle but Earthlings takes it on by way of a story that is like trying to explain to someone what an apple is by way of showing one what a human body does to an apple after it has consumed it.

In all this is not a pleasant book. It is not a stunning read and I do not recommend. It has a few interesting passages but they are set against and best by such horrific and troubling turns of events. A lot comes together in this book, but it's not beautiful, not al all, it is not even artful. The passages that struck me as good are good in a way that maybe a drunk person can spin a phrase that is maybe beautiful but it comes by way of an accident of sorts. Or maybe the reason of this book is to repulse and be a thing that sits, writhing, under your skin.
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LibraryThing member krau0098
Series Info/Source: This is a stand alone book. I borrowed this on audiobook from the library.

Thoughts: This was a bizarre and (at times) uncomfortably violent/abusive read that I was not expecting. You just didn't know where this story was going and what was going to happen from page to page. I
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ended up finding that engaging and endearing despite (or maybe because) of the weirdness going on here. I was impressed with how many social issues were evaluated in the rather bizarre light of this story as well. Previous to reading this I had also read "Convenience Store Woman" and enjoyed that.

The story seems relatively simple to start. We follow Natsuki a young girl who doesn't fit in with her family and is convinced she can do magic spells. Aside from a plush toy named Piyyut (who Natsuki thinks is from the plant Popinpobopia) her only friend is her cousin Yuu. Yuu is convinced he is an alien from a different planet and is waiting for the spaceship to take him back to his home planet. The two get along wonderfully until the world intercedes and we are quickly shoved into Natsuki's abusive reality as she gets older. Natsuki eventually marries (via an app that helps couples who are looking for a "fake" marriage) and continues to evade what she sees as the "baby factory" of society. However, she thinks fondly of her summers spent with Yuu and eventually wants to return to the mountains of Nagano. When she does things get really wild.

What seems like a simple childhood story quickly dives into a story of the horrible abuse Natsuki faced as a girl both from her family and from a teacher. The whole story is told with a very matter of fact tone, that makes this abuse seem casual. The way the adults around Natsuki and even her friends write off this abuse as either her fault or just "something that happens" was incredibly disturbing.

The book is written in an almost childlike and simple tone throughout, which provides a stark contrast to what is happening in the story. The story shares some themes with "Convenience Store Woman" around people being forced to be something society wants. In this case Natsuki struggles with the fact that it seems like her whole society is a "baby factory" and that her only worth as a woman is to become a tool for society and make babies. She actually would like to be brainwashed by society but just can't stomach or be happy with the idea of doing that.

I listened to this on audiobook and the audiobook is well done. Initially I thought the narration was a bit stiff sounding, but then realized that it really matches the simple and childlike tone of the book. If you listen to audiobooks this is a good one to listen to on audiobook.

My Summary (4/5): Overall I ended up enjoying this for all of its weirdness. I did find a lot of the abuse hard to stomach and this isn't something I would read a second time. However, this story definitely drives home the repercussions that can be seen by forcing everyone to fit into a certain societal mold. It's a pretty extreme and odd repercussion that really isn't all that believable. The unpredictability of the story drew me in though. I have enjoyed the two books I have read by Murate so far and will definitely keep an eye on her future books. Murate really cuts to the heart of some big societal issues in a way that is unexpected.
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