This book was torrid and wanton, but also very matter-of-fact and straightforward. Translated by Howard Hibbett after the author’s death, The Key is striking for its openness and the sexual honesty and subterfuge of the characters. Set in the form of diary entries of a poorly matched husband and wife who suspect but are not sure that they are reading each others entries clandestinely, it touches on a lot of things that are very human and in contradiction to the romantic myth of love and marriage that exists. The characters of The Key love and hate simultaneously with strong passion. They begin with lies and subterfuge, and descend into a more honest and self-aware recognition of their own sexual desires and appetites.
The sex and sexuality is not a side-element, but is the whole story. On my first read-through I was too used to everyday ‘edgy’ romance novels to be much more than horrified at some of the content, but re-reading it this year I could see a lot of contemplation of life, death and identity. The biological frailty of the characters and their desire to escape their frailty and social relationships through orgasm is quite striking. For a novella thinner than my pinky finger, it takes a lot of energy to get through. I suspect I won’t have thought all my thoughts about it until I’ve re-read it a few more times and done some reading about Tanizaki himself.