A REVIEW OF I WANT TO FUCK YOU BY P. P. HARTNETT
I Want to Fuck You by Irish writer Peter Paul Hartnett was published by Pulp Fiction, London in 1998.
My Name is Takeo
The characters who appear in P-P Hartnett's novel I Want To Fuck You live in one of the massive apartment block complexes that are scattered around Tokyo and its suburbs. Often built with public funds and called danchi, the buildings are always of plain and uninteresting design, arranged in orderly rows like so many army barracks seven or eight stories tall. Outwardly they are little more than straight lines and countless shades of gray, and the people in this novel feel the boredom and listlessness of such an uninspiring vista. They treat this outside world with unconcern, often tossing unwanted objects out of the window, letting them fall where they may on the sidewalk below.
Inside the nondescript buildings, some of the apartments, in true Japanese style, are pristine and super cozy. Each small object of decoration has been chosen for its color and contribution to the overall design of assembling a self-contained unit where intrusions from the outside world are minimized. Because the apartments are so compact, each object must be kept carefully in its place or the order of the whole inner living space will be compromised, much as the needs of each person in the novel must remain restrained.
This is a novel about outward appearances and inner reality. Each character presents one face to the outside world, while grappling with the ricocheting urges tumbling within themselves. The unmastered urges that writer P-P Hartnett lays before the reader are the sexual urges felt by each person that struggle to be gratified.
Making his appearance on the first page as well as closing out this novel is Takeo, a boy of twelve, going on thirteen, a prepubescent boy of skinny perfection. He knows how to charm the world around him by being boyish and innocent, acting with an 'unawareness' that even he knows is not true, because new emotions keep rising from somewhere within himself propelling him to do things he cannot fully explain. Why does getting a new haircut, shaving off the long black locks of his thick hair in favor of a military style buzz cut become so important? Why does lying in his room by the window fondling and semi-exposing himself to outside gazes seem for some reason thrilling? When he notices the few stray hairs sprouting near his genitals or under his arms, he is not sure that's what he wants to happen to him; he is not sure he wants to leave the state of boyhood.
Another human being is the trigger for the expression of these insistent emotions that suddenly appear within Takeo, and that person is his gym teacher at school, Handa-sensei. There is a scent about Handa, a relaxed maleness, an enfolding masculinity, that begins to captivate Takeo. And not only him, because fellow student and upperclassman Sadao, aged ﬁfteen going on sixteen, is prepared to do more than admire his gym teacher without touching. He devises a way of being alone in the locker room, midst the pervasive boy-smell and images of hairless nude bodies, sure that his swelling penis will be an unmistakable invitation to teacher Handa to take any liberties he chooses.
Equally caught up in this pantomime of early lust is Handa himself, who keeps repeating his mantra that he would never fuck young Takeo, an innocent boy in his charge, though every urge makes him want to do just that. Young Takeo has no concrete idea of what form sex between the two would take, but he desperately would like it to happen; a manly closeness, a smothering embrace, a rapture to bond him with this symbol of strength and gentleness.
Takeo's story seems central to this novel, perhaps because it is the freshest and the least clouded by past disappointments. The other characters who live in the danchi or use the building have been bruised by the buffeting they have received from the outside world. Akio knows that at age eighteen his body can excite many men and women, and his own thirst for new experience leads him to take up a job as a rent boy catering to the requests of older men, a situation he ﬁnds not at all unpleasant. Jeff, twenty-something, gay and a professional model from the United States, is confident and offensive, but also only one step ahead of whatever he is running from. Shigeru is nineteen and has been secretly meeting men for sexual encounters through the popular gay magazine Barazoku (The Rose Tribe). He perhaps represents the ultimate fear of all of the people in this novel who labor to keep themselves protected from the outside world, and maybe the ultimate liberation from that fear, when he decides that suicide is the answer to his situation.
The women who appear in the novel inhabit the same emotional world of need and searching as do the males, though whereas the males reach out to other males for their adventure, most of the women turn to their opposites, to males, for deliverance. The most confused among the females might be Takeo's mother, who crawls in bed with him so that her body can touch his, and though Takeo keeps breathing quietly in order to play the sleeping boy, both of them know the essence of what is taking place.
P-P Hartnett's book has a lot of Tokyo ambience in it. A glossary at the end of the text explains the Japanese words and phrases used in the story. He clearly has immersed himself in life as it is lived in Japan's capital city and everything he describes, regardless of how it might seem to have been crafted purely for symbolic effect, is, from my experience, based on real places and things that really happen in Tokyo. It is a story structured clearly and told in a straightforward manner.
My one reservation is that the author has given his Japanese characters Western personalities. I cannot help but feel the Japanese tend to use an inner logic for processing conﬂict and desires that is different from the emotional matrixes of Westerners. But then again, since human beings the world over share physical and genetic material that is identical, it may be that only differences in language usage between my Japanese and my Western friends mask what is after all a largely similar process.
Reviewed by Oliver J. Haas in Koinos (Amikejo Foundation, Amsterdam) No. 30, 2nd quarter 2001, pp. 24-26.