The Decay of the Angel
The Sea of Fertility, 4
Publication Date: April 14, 1990
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Yukio Mishima’s The Decay of the Angel is the final novel in his masterful tetralogy, The Sea of Fertility. It is the last installment of Shigekuni Honda’s pursuit of the successive reincarnations of his childhood friend Kiyoaki Matsugae.
It is the late 1960s and Honda, now an aged and wealthy man, once more encounters a person he believes to be a reincarnation of his friend, Kiyoaki — this time restored to life as a teenage orphan, Tōru. Adopting the boy as his heir, Honda quickly finds that Tōru is a force to be reckoned with. The final novel of this celebrated tetralogy weaves together the dominant themes of the previous three novels in the series: the decay of Japan’s courtly tradition; the essence and value of Buddhist philosophy and aesthetics; and, underlying all, Mishima’s apocalyptic vision of the modern era.
Yukio Mishima was born in Tokyo in 1925. He graduated from Tokyo Imperial University’s School of Jurisprudence in 1947. His first published book, The Forest in Full Bloom, appeared in 1944 and he established himself as a major author with Confessions of a Mask (1949). From then until his death he continued to publish novels, short stories, and plays each year. His crowning achievement, The Sea of Fertility tetralogy—which contains the novels Spring Snow (1969), Runaway Horses (1969), The Temple of Dawn (1970), and The Decay of the Angel (1971)—is considered one of the definitive works of twentieth century Japanese fiction. In 1970, at the age of 45 and the day after completing the last novel in the Fertility series, Mishima committed seppuku (ritual suicide)—a spectacular death that attracted worldwide attention.
“Mesmerizing. . . . A saga of 20th-century Japan: a story of national decline that nonetheless proposes redemption through the endurance of a certain soul, forceful enough to be reborn ad infinitum.”
—The Guardian (London)
“The end of [Mishima’s] Sea of Fertility tetralogy. . . is surely one of the best final scenes in the history of the novel.”
—David Mitchell, The New York Times Book Review