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Snakes and Earrings

UK Publisher: Vintage

Snakes and Earrings (蛇にピアス Hebi ni Piasu) is a Japanese novel by Hitomi Kanehara, first published in 2003 in the literary magazine Shōsetsu Subaru, then published in 2004 as a book. Snakes and Earrings won the 27th Subaru Literary Prize and the 130th Akutagawa Prize. It sold more than a million copies in Japan, has been translated into sixteen languages, and was adapted for film.

A young woman named Lui admires her new boyfriend Ama’s split tongue, which she likens to the forked tongue of a snake. Having experimented with large ear piercings, she decides that she wants to try the same body modification as Ama. Lui and Ama visit a bisexual body modification and tattoo artist named Shiba, who begins the process of inserting progressively larger tongue studs. Lui finds herself interested in Shiba, returns to the shop without Ama, and secretly begins a violent sexual relationship with Shiba involving bondage and sadomasochism. Ama subsequently gets into a fight with an apparent gangster, knocking out the man’s teeth and presenting them to Lui as a gift. Despite Ama’s obvious affection, Lui feels disconnected from Ama and continues to have a sexual relationship with Shiba, who is creating an intricate tattoo that covers her entire back.

One day Ama unexpectedly disappears. His corpse is later found with evidence of torture, rape, and strangulation. After learning of Ama’s demise, Lui tries to speed up the process of splitting her tongue by inserting larger studs too quickly, causing intense pain, and she stops eating, instead only drinking alcohol. She then discovers evidence suggesting that Shiba was Ama’s rapist and murderer. Lui privately suspects a previous sexual relationship between Shiba and Ama, but when the police investigator asks her whether Ama ever had sex with men, she insists that Ama was completely heterosexual. With Ama gone, Lui and Shiba reveal their real names to one another, their relationship falls into a more domestic pattern, and Lui considers putting in a larger tongue stud.

Hitomi Kanehara is the author of Snakes and Earrings which won the top Japanese literary award, the Akutagawa Prize. One of the...