Mario Bellatin is a trickster who loves to sow confusion. I recently wrote about Bellatin’s 2012 book Shiki Nagaoka: A Nose for Fiction, his fake biography of a non-existent Japanese writer. In Mishima’s Ilustrated Biography, he gives us a biography (of sorts) about the real Japanese writer Yukio Mishima, but this biography doesn’t begin until after Mishima has committed suicide and after his ritual decapitation by a colleague.
Mishima is part of a slim, bilingual volume that contains two brief novellas – Flowers (Flores) and Mishima’s Ilustrated Biography (Biografía Illustrada de Mishima). But Mishima is the work that most interests me today. The Mishima we are introduced to seems to be quite alive but lacking his head. Bellatin sketches out a number of disconnected episodes from Mishima’s extended life, many of which are superficially banal; he travels, attends conferences, visits a university, goes to the mall. But nothing in a Bellatin novel remains banal for long. Events mutate and spin off in unexpected directions. Take the example of Mishima’s attempt to find a substitute for his missing head. At first, a craftsman makes him a “rudimentary” head that “looks more like an archaic grenade than an integral part of his body.” He then considers having a kabuki mask made, but later decides that the making of a new head should be a “community project” wherein everyone would have shared responsibility for the end result. And then suddenly the subject is dropped, never to reappear. In Mishima, ideas are thrown out, explored (or exploited), then forgotten, as if attention-deficit has set in. Read more