Book Review: Earthlings by Sayaka Murata

I’m back with another review. I’ve just finished reading Earthlings… This was such an emotional ride for me. If you’re familiar with Sayaka Murata, you’ve probably read Convenience Store Woman. Earthlings is her newest novel which is supposed to be… even more odd than Convenience Store Woman. Don’t let the cute cover fool you – the book is by no means a pleasant story!

Society was a system for falling in love. People who couldn’t fall in love had to fake it. What came first: the system or love?

Sayaka Murata, Earthlings

I’ll quickly start with a trigger warning: the book includes a big amount of physical, verbal and mental abuse, rape scenes, sexual assualt, incest, murder and cannibalism.

11-year old Natsuki sees herself as an alient sent from planet Popinpobopia to planet Earth. She’s an outsider, both in her family as well as in the wider society, and she has troubles understanding the rules of childhood. Later, as a 34-year old woman, Natsuki is haunted by her childhood memories and experiences, and she is still looking for an answer: why can’t she fit in?

First and foremost, I didn’t know what I was expecting when I started reading the book. The cover kind of mislead me, and synopsis sounded intriguing but not uncanny in any way, and I liked the general premise of the book. I had however no idea what I was getting into so my thoughts and opinions here might be a bit of a surprise for those who are familiar with Murata’s style of writing.

We are dealing with a very heavy topic and I hope you know what you’re getting into. The book might seem like a typical rebellion story – a young girl is struggling to adhere to adults’ and society’s rules, and who is later being persued because of her nonconformity. The story of Natsuki is however outrageous and heartbreaking not only because of what happened to her during her adolescence, but also of how bad she and people around her were dealing with such experiences. And even though a big part of the book is presented from a perpective of a child, it only misleads us more. The narration is very ambiguos so we start to question the morals of all characters in the story, and at the end, the question of “Who is the actual Earthling here: them or us?” can cause a lot of overthinking.

It’s always difficult to describe one’s feelings and opinions when it comes to a story like that. Heaviness of the book doesn’t only lie in its general theme and ambiguity of narration, but also in the brutality and in the defiance of taboos. The overwhelmingly big amount of brutality in Natsuki’s direction and the constant rejection of any taboo topics, whether it’s incest or cannibalism, can mess up with our minds.

I think I liked the first part of the book more than the second one (if you can use the word “like” in terms of this book). In the first part, Natsuki is being ostracized by everyone she knows due to her “abnormality” and we can see how her hatred for people and worldview on the Factory (people who “produce” babies) and society is being developed. In the second part, Natsuki is already an adult woman who has to deal with the past trauma. She and her husband find it very dfficult to fit in, they are not understood by their families and friends, and they decide to live by their own rules that, unfortunately (or fortunately, it’s difficult to say…), are not the best coping mechanism for survival.

How long do we have to just survive? When will we be able to live rather than just focussing on surviving? When we grow up. Then we’ll be able to live.

Sayaka Murata, Earthlings

I didn’t expect this book to be this odd and dark. It was a big shock to me and I might not be entirely okay with the portrayal of most of the violent scenes in the book, especially in the second part and at the end. Call me a softie, but it might have been a little bit too much for me. If you’re not ready fot such a twisted and bizarre journey, then please approach if with caution. If you do want to get into it, then you’ll probably find this critique on today’s society pretty disturbing, yet intriguing!


Rating: 3 out of 5.

Thank you NetGalley and Grove Atlantic for providing me with a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions here are my own.

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