Tanizaki is the author of one of my favorite books, The Makioka Sisters, and since reading it in high school I have slowly been working my way through his novels and short stories. I feel a little bit like Desmond from Lost when I think about his books- I'm hesitant to start them because I enjoy reading them so much I don't want it to be over, and I would be happy if his were the last books I ever read. I've actually had several of his books waiting to be read for a few years until I could sit down a really appreciate them. Some Prefer Nettles is definitely not his best work, in my opinion, but it is fascinating and engrossing. I had a hard time putting this down to go to class and ending up reading it in a couple hours.
The story is set mainly in 1920's Osaka and explores the odd relationship between Kaname and his wife Mitsuko. Both from Tokyo, the center of a modern Japanese culture that embraces western influence, Kaname and Mitsuko despise Osakan culture for its traditionalism. After ten years, their marriage can barely be called one- they function more as roommates and Kaname even allows Mitsuko to have an affair. The plan is divorce but neither wants to tell people first, so they live their lives in indecision. There son suspects that something is terribly wrong, but both make endless excuses to avoid telling him. Meanwhile, Kaname seeks out his father-in-law, initially to cushion the blow of bad news, but he soon becomes entranced by old traditions. His new-found passion for puppet theater and his father-in-law's doll-like mistress, O-hisa, make him question his choices for the past several years and his embrace of western culture.
Now if you decide to read this book, I would suggest skipping the introduction. It gives a good background on Tanizaki but gives away the ending to Nettles. It was a really stupid move to include that. Tanizaki had a gift for making his characters psychologically complex, to borrow a phrase from the back cover. You can feel Kaname's indecision and the allure that classical Japan would have for him as he struggles with his marriage, his family, and his mistress. Tanizaki even made descriptions of the puppet theater fascinating, which is a dying art form that I always found to be a little creepy. It is suggested that he based Kaname on himself, he did divorce his wife a couple years later. The realism that he brings to the story would suggest that this is true.
For those that hate the ambiguous, this is not the book for you. Tanizaki did not believe in minute detail and giving answers to every question. But if you want a glimpse into the clashing of modern and traditional Japanese culture, or just an introduction to Tanizaki, this is an excellent choice.