No Longer Human is a cultural phenomenon, widely known as the second most bestselling novel in the history of Japan. Within, Osamu Dazai explores the life of a man who feels that he has never been a part of humanity, and his desperate strivings to find a piece of happiness in a life full of terror and vice. The timeless, existential themes of the novel will haunt the reader past the last page.
I chose to read this book because I'd seen a lot of people all over the internet praise it as the saddest book they'd ever read. There are about a thousand videos and essays and think pieces about the depressing nature of this book, and how it can devastate and eviscerate emotionally. Weirdly enough, I don't see it. The book is definitely very sad, but to me it didn't extend very far beyond the other grimly written books about very sad people with very sad lives. However, the psychology of the protagonist definitely sets the book apart. Unlike other books of the same nature, this book cuts to the bone by showing the terrifying underbelly of humanity. The protagonist is paralyzed by fear because he comprehends what many of us forget: that we are at all times surrounded by our own apex predators. Each of us has our own deep desires that could stir us to violence at any given time. We lie and cheat and steal to get what we want, effortlessly wearing masks that can obscure our entire character and can last a lifetime. The protagonist isn't like other antiheroes of hardened books about the horribleness of humanity. He doesn't accept it, or rail against it. He is very much afraid of it, and does everything he can to get out of its way. The protagonist's perspective is also interesting in the way it views humanity. The detachment of the central character is clinical, and portrays the characters in an alien light. He is scared of humans, but he also doesn't understand them. He sees all hunger and desire as something strange, and he wonders how people can be so insincere so easily. But despite his abject horror of humanity, the protagonist is slowly transformed into everything he despises and cannot understand. Perhaps the most fascinating part of this tale is how the protagonist is dragged, slowly but steadily, into the grips of humanity's vices and horrors.
Despite the intriguing nature of the protagonist's psychology, I didn't find the rest of the book as interesting as I thought I would. I was likely just disappointed that after all the build up, this amounted to another very well done, very sad bildungsroman in the vein of Catcher in the Rye or Little Friends. There's also issues with the way the writer portrays women, but since everyone in the book is fairly dehumanized it doesn't bother me as much as I thought it would. All in all, No Longer Human is a fascinating journey through the most base natures of humanity, all through the eyes of a man who feels disqualified from being human. I'd recommend this to someone who wants something dark and strangely fascinating. I would not recommend this to anyone who is anywhere close to being in a bad place, or anyone who got annoyed by Holden in Catcher in the Rye. This guy is ten times worse.
Reviewer Grade: 12