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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 459

SCANDAL is the story of the dilemma facing a leading Catholic novelist who has a reputation for impeccable morals. Yet strange witnesses charge him with having frequented a district in Tokyo noted for its discos, pornography shops, cheap hotels, and sexual escapades. Suguro pays visits to this district in an effort to clear himself of the charge against him. Concurrently, an inquiring reporter who hates him shadows him and makes inquiries about him to expose the writer’s duplicity and hypocrisy. As a result Suguro learns about the dark side of humanity and of his own darkness.

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Suguro (only too obviously a persona for Endo) learns of the witnesses to his apparent depravity at an awards ceremony for him. A woman street artist, drunk, from the sleazy Tokyo district, invades the reception, asserting that Suguro invited her. She also claims that a friend of hers, another female artist, painted Suguro’s portrait, entitling it THE FACE OF MR. S., and that the painting is presently on exhibition at a gallery in Tokyo’s “Montmartre,” an exhibition Suguro promised to attend. When Suguro tells her that she must have him confused with somebody else, she replies that she knows him from Sukura Street in Shinjuku Ward, where he did “some very naughty things.”

During the course of his investigation of himself, Suguro learns the complexity of his own psyche. His face in the portrait reveals inner lewdness and contempt. He discovers his “double"--his shadow, or the darker side of his unconscious self. His friendships with the attractive bisexual sadist, Madame Naruse, and the innocent teenager, Morita Mitsu, lead him to discover his deeply buried eroticism and thus his potentiality for sinning. The sins he commits, however, are of thought only; they are not acts, for he is no actor but a Peeping Tom of life.

Although some readers may find this novel satisfying, it is by no means a work of high quality. Its characters are thin; its plot is mechanically contrived. Endo’s moral focus rests almost entirely on sexual deviance that is mostly criminal. His Christianity is weak, and the best that can be said about it is that it is a point of departure--it is ecumenical, and it is not intrusive. He is less interested in Christ than in the Marquis de Sade, who argued that sexual deviance and criminal acts exist in nature and hence are natural.

Sources for Further Study

Booklist. LXXXIII, February 15, 1987, p. 879.

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Boston Globe. August 3, 1988, p. 61.

Kirkus Reviews. LVI, June 1, 1988, p. 781.

London Review of Books. X, May 19, 1988, p. 24.

New Statesman. CXVI, May 13, 1988, p. 33.

The New York Times Book Review. XCIII, August 28, 1988, p. 15.

The Observer. April 24, 1988, p. 41.

Publishers Weekly. CCXXXIII, June 10, 1988, p. 70.

The Spectator. CCLX, April 23, 1988, p. 28.

The Times Literary Supplement. April 29, 1988, p. 471.


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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2061

Scandal, Japanese novelist Shusaku End’s seventh novel to be translated into English, can be called part confessional, part parable, and part psychological thriller. It represents at once his most compelling and complex plot and his most fully realized portrait of the difficulty of communicating as a Christian within the profoundly nontheistic culture of his native Japan. End’s serious novels have consistently treated the theme of Christianity’s failure to take root in the East; indeed, in many ways that has been their sole theme. While each of those previous novels has concerned this dilemma, they have always been focused rather retrospectively, on a Japanese society either premodern (Chimmoku, 1966, translated as Silence, 1969; Samurai, 1980, translated as The Samurai, 1982), war-torn (Umi to dokuyaku, 1957, translated as The Sea and the Poison, 1972), or postwar (Kazan, 1959, translated as Volcano, 1978; Kuchibue o fuku toki, 1974, translated as When I Whistle, 1979; Obaka san, 1959, translated as Wonderful Fool, 1974). In Scandal, however, End confronts directly his longtime novelistic challenge within the setting of a triumphant, industrialized Japan of the 1980’s.

In a land in which less than 1 percent of the populace professes belief in Christianity, how does the Christian writer make sensible to his readers the concepts of sin, redemption, resurrection, and eternal life? In effect, Scandal emerges as End’s uneasy but electrifying resolution of that problem, as he offers a shocking, realistic profile of an aging writer not unlike himself. Caught in a web of sinister intrigue, Suguro, an eminent Japanese author, must learn how to deal with his private passions and novelistic responsibilities. As he nears the end of an acclaimed career, Suguro is singled out for a literary prize for his latest novel, a book that he thinks marks a new harmony in his oeuvre. At the awards ceremony, his longtime colleague and skeptical friend, Kan, introduces him to the assembled crowd with a glib but complimentary speech. Suguro’s achievement, Kan observes, is an authentic treatment of the theme that within every sin one finds the desire of a man to find a way of escape from his suffocating life. Suguro, amused but also made pensive by Kan’s somewhat backhanded compliments, ponders to himself, “None of you has any idea how difficult it is for a Christian to write fiction in Japan.” As the ceremony winds down, Suguro catches a glimpse of a man curiously resembling himself—a near double of Suguro whose expression is distinguished from his only by its sneer.

What should have been a joyful occasion dissolves, however, into an embarrassing and potentially scandalous public encounter. A young portrait artist, Motoko, who has come uninvited to the postceremony reception, claims to have met the saintly, award-winning author in Tokyo’s red-light district—where she says he has done “some very naughty things.” Though Suguro immediately denies knowing the woman or anything about her accusation, the spectacle is observed by Kobari, an ambitious young literary journalist who thereafter makes it his aim to prove the charge and elevate his own career while bringing the venerable Suguro down. The accusation is thus doubly disturbing to Suguro. At sixty-five, he is held in reverence by his readership and most of his fellow writers, and the thought that his religious commitment could be questioned and thus undermine the integrity of his work is a sudden and devastating blow. Even more troubling to Suguro, however, is the possibility that in some preternatural sense the charge might be true. He is immediately haunted by a memory of the stranger with his face, that mysterious figure whose existence, it seems, threatens Suguro’s marriage, career, and faith.

End soon introduces two characters widely disparate in their dispositions and preoccupations but whose lives are intertwined with the novel’s denouement. The first is the virginal teenager Mitsu, who respectfully calls Suguro “sensei,” or teacher, as she dutifully cleans his office to earn pocket money for herself and her indigent family. After an erotic dream, Suguro reluctantly admits to himself that he is attracted to her. Later, he finds it convenient to dismiss her after his wife discovers that she has been pilfering money from him, ostensibly to give to a needy family. By removing this object of his elderly lust, Suguro hopes to avoid the distracting uneasiness of his own sinful passion and turn his full attention to investigating the scandal enveloping him.

Invited to an exhibition of Motoko’s work, Suguro confronts the enigmatic artist in the seediest part of Tokyo, where he indeed inexplicably discovers a portrait of himself in the gallery. Here he also encounters the mysterious, self-assured Madame Naruse, who introduces herself and immediately accuses the writer of failing to confront the truth about himself. Unsure of her motives, Suguro becomes obsessed with the matronly, widowed woman, who serves as a hospital volunteer, and determines to meet and correspond with her in order to trace the roots of the allegations against him. As he spends more and more time with her, he finds their labyrinthine conversations centered on “erotic behavior,” which, she avers, “expresses our profoundest secrets.” He discovers that beneath her outward calm lies a dark, hidden rage and a propensity for violence. Eventually, Madame Naruse confides to him in a long, painful letter that during her marriage she could be roused to sexual passion only after her husband’s confession of brutal war crimes. Now widowed, but still seeking this same passion, Madame Naruse participates in sadomasochistic rituals with Motoko as the willing victim—the very acts of which Suguro has been accused.

These rituals eventuate in Madame Naruse strangling Motoko to death—as the tormented artist had often requested—as the novel moves to its harrowing climax. Luring Suguro to a specially prepared room on the promise of meeting his double and thus unraveling the mystery of her accusations, Madame Naruse compels him to watch from a peephole the horrifying molestation of a young woman whom he recognizes as Mitsu. It is here, in the darkness, that Suguro is forced to confront his fierce and forbidding alter ego; at first vowing to rescue Mitsu from the “evil Suguro,” he is slowly paralyzed by his moral failure, succumbing to the perverse erotic pleasure he derives from watching his doppelgänger act out his lascivious dreams. In the end, he is unable to separate himself from the sin he has supposedly only observed, and, chastened, he feels himself one with the deviancy he has witnessed. The detached reporter of other men’s sins is unmasked as himself a participant in their evils.

End’s narrative style is often compared to that of fellow Catholic writer Graham Greene; his fallen characters stumbling their way toward Heaven captivate readers in the same way that Greene’s faltering saints do. Scandal, however, might be better compared to the work of another illustrious Catholic writer: François Mauriac. In Suguro and Madame Naruse, End has created worthy Japanese counterparts to Mauriac’s tortured saints. Haunted by their mutual knowledge of good and evil, Suguro the novelist and Madame Naruse the sheltered widow choose different paths for dealing with their own sinful selves. In their choices, however, End effectively dramatizes the Japanese reluctance to acknowledge sin as a dehumanizing and debilitating hardness that allows a man or a woman to use others for his or her own pleasure or gain. By naming and confessing sin as sin—as opposed to reducing it to mere character flaw or vanity—End suggests that one may find a way of out it, to find forgiveness not only from God but also from the self.

Speaking of Suguro, End’s omniscient narrator suggests that “his pen somehow persisted in depicting the black, dark, ugly realms within his characters.” Chatting breezily on television about his own fictional characters—the “sinner saved by his sin” and thus awakened to his need for redemption—Suguro has assumed a comfortable distance from the psychology of his creations. Unable to write “stories that are nicer, more beautiful” as a priest friend has requested, Suguro finds himself explaining away his narrative preoccupations much as Mauriac himself did: “A true religion should be able to respond to the dark melodies, the faulty and hideous sounds that echo from the hearts of men.” Yet as Suguro discovers in his sudden, shocking epiphany at Madame Naruse’s peephole, he himself has, in fact, been that character who, driven by the depravity lurking in his heart, is desperate for new birth.

In his previous novels End has performed those “dark melodies” of which Suguro speaks, but never with such deadly seriousness or terrible precision. For End, Scandal is an especially risky venture, a high-wire act by a splendid novelist whose breathtaking identification with his protagonist leaves him vulnerable and transparent to his reader. End has always peopled his novels with fallen protagonists whose actions and failures subtly but relentlessly underscore his country’s failure to take seriously the faith toward which it gropes. In Scandal, however, End has endowed Suguro not only with the generic pathos of the rejected prophet unappreciated in his own land but also with unmistakable parallels to his own career—even to the extent of titling Suguro’s novels identically or similarly to those in End’s own canon. In effect, Scandal is a confessional novel, a “Portrait of the Artist as an Aging Christian,” that details the personal and creative battles which he must wage to practice his faith and his craft.

In Suguro, End has chosen to take his readers with painful recognition into the consciousness of the artist who is charged, in Flannery O’Connor’s words, with “drawing large and startling figures” for the “almost-blind,” lest they miss the obvious truth of their sinful condition. Yet he is not content to preach to his countrymen; he is willing in this novel finally to place his own life alongside theirs, refusing to remain aloof and frankly admitting to the same passions and temptations that torment them. When End, himself a talk-show host in Japan, places Suguro on a typical Japanese television show and depicts him chatting casually about the meaning of sin and the possibility of redemption, he satirizes the glibness with which he himself and others like him treat momentous issues. What can be said or intimated about so profound a subject in thirty-second sound bites? From End’s view, the Christian artist must move beyond the voyeurism of secular fiction and self-consciously create contexts in which human sin can be named as such and forgiveness can be tendered.

Scandal may be read, then, as a parable about the role of the ideological artist in a culture unfriendly to his or her claims. Every writer, but especially the would-be Christian writer, must come to grips with another kind of doppelgänger, the ghostly double who inhabits and haunts the process of writing fiction. As the artist temporarily inbues characters with his or her humanity, a siphoning of the artist’s own motive and vision occurs—an activity which can often debilitate the moral sensibilities of the writer, rendering him or her aloof from the sinfulness which is shared between them. As End’s narrator observes of Suguro, “The more he wrote, the more did he become aware of the kind of stench that reeked from deep inside each person.” The title Scandal thus looms as doubly significant. There is first the ultimate scandal of Christianity, the Cross of Christ, the horrifying visual symbol of crucified innocence that is said to be to the Japanese merely a metaphor for weakness and impotence. There is also, however, the scandal of the Christian author who grows cold and self-important, refusing to be identified with the very scandals of his God and his brethren about which he purports to write.

It is not too much to say that with this novel, End rejects that mind-set out of hand. In so doing, he deepens his claim to be recognized as one of the most important Christian novelists now writing in any language.

Sources for Further Study

Booklist. LXXXIII, February 15, 1987, p. 879.

Boston Globe. August 3, 1988, p. 61.

Kirkus Reviews. LVI, June 1, 1988, p. 781.

London Review of Books. X, May 19, 1988, p. 24.

New Statesman. CXVI, May 13, 1988, p. 33.

The New York Times Book Review. XCIII, August 28, 1988, p. 15.

The Observer. April 24, 1988, p. 41.

Publishers Weekly. CCXXXIII, June 10, 1988, p. 70.

The Spectator. CCLX, April 23, 1988, p. 28.

The Times Literary Supplement. April 29, 1988, p. 471.

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