This short novel was the first work I've read of Osamu Dazai. As mentioned in the translator's introduction, the original title is "人間失格" ("Ningen Shikkaku") meaning "Disqualified as a Human Being". In Donald Keene's introduction, he warns the reader not to take this book as a semi-autobiography, but clearly some of the protagonist's life echoes Dazai's. I can feel some of the unease regarding Japan's post-war Westernization that people of Dazai's generation held, seep into this novel. The references to Western artwork and religion in this story were pretty interesting, in a way.
The book is narrated through the protagonist Ōba Yōzō's notebooks; his childhood, his student years at university and his adulthood. The story is bookended with narration by an unidentified person. It's an interesting presentation of text. I liked it.
I found Ōba easy to empathise with for the most part. (And if you can't empathise with him, even a little, well, you'll have a hard time reading this novella. In fact, some of Ōba's (asinine) actions and their repercussions felt too close to home.) Ōba's most notable characteristics are his indecisive mentality and his inability to form any healthy relationships with other people. Ōba never feels at ease in his own skin. I was rooting for him all the way, even when he made poor decision after poor decision... I was hoping for something good to come his way, weather he had earned it or not. There were times I found myself very distressed over the protagonist's and secondary character's actions, because I was anxious for them. Maybe because the author suffered from drug addiction, alcoholism and depression, this book is heavy and pulls no punches. I give five stars to Dazai for his writing; his approach is 'casual' but he isn't shy about his (Ōba's) feelings on other people and the human condition. I'll surely revisit this book again. For anyone interested in reading anything by Osamu Dazai, I highly recommend!
The book itself is a paperback but the binding is nice.