I was given this book this summer after expressing my rising interest in Japanese literature to a friend. Once I started reading this book, I found it very different from the other books I had read by Japanese authors. It lacked the distinctive style of description that I had come to appreciate in Japanese literature. At first, the novel bombards you with technical information, such as the cost of a train trip in Japan, a seemingly irrelevant fact. The book read like a typical north american crime novel, which I found somewhat disappointing. However, as I continued through the novel, it became less and less a crime drama. The themes emerged, cultural information flowed more easily, and the characters became more important than the crime.
First, to discuss the writing style, I found the style very basic and relatively uninteresting. The object was more the plot than an interesting writing format. However, the author used some interesting devices. Each section, simply marked, ended with a description or action which was copied in the beginning of the following section. For the most part, this created a smooth flow between sections and vivid imagery. At times, though, it seemed as if the author was writing for a movie script. Most of the time, especially towards the end of the novel, this was a very well done feature.
The narration of the novel changed often. Different portions of the novel were narrated from different characters. Often, a secondary character in one section would suddenly switch and become the narrator of the following section. I enjoyed this feature very much. In my opinion, it was as if the table was just spun before my eyes and I was now seeing events from a totally different angle. This wasn't confusing and was effectively used to portray new information and keep the reader's attention.
Second, to discuss plot, I was continually amazed that events unfolded as they did. It was hard to believe that the murder could happen the way it did. It was shocking that people could be so petty. A girl was behaving like a nuisance, so was kicked out of a car. The driver was not considerate in the least towards her and didn't concern himself with her safety. She then behaved like a nuisance to someone else. Each character was rude and inconsiderate to another. However, the resulting events seemed uncanny, despite the inconsideration of the characters involved.
As the novel progresses, the reader learns more about the characters involved. The reader learns firstly about the victim, Yoshino. She proved to be a fairly unlikable character and I began to lose feelings of sympathy for her as a victim. The readers learns about two potential murders, Yuichi, a lonely construction worker that met Yoshino on an online dating site, and Keigo, a popular guy that Yoshino was trying to develop a relationship with. The depiction of these characters, particularly Yuichi, changes throughout the novel, casting doubt in the reader on who they really are.
The novel also focuses on the friends and family members surrounding Yuichi and Keigo. The families, involved with these characters to varying degrees, seems to have little idea about what these characters do in their free time. The novel discusses the generation gap, revealing clearly that the older generations do not know or understand the activities of the younger generations. This is particularly evident between Yoshino and her parents. Her parents did not believe that she was the type of girl that would go on online dating sites, that she was sexually active, or that she would accept money for sex. To her, she was their pure and innocent daughter. They learned much about who she was a person from policemen after her murder.
Loneliness is a consistent theme in the novel. The novel discusses that despite a busy life, a number of young people are still struggling with loneliness. A number of the characters experience this struggle and deal with it in a variety of ways. However, ultimately, many of the characters are simply seeking companionship. Their loneliness becomes dangerous depending on what the character is willing to do in order to alleviate his or her loneliness.
The novel discusses fault for the crime extensively. This question was both who is the villain and who made the villain. The grandmother of Yuichi is hassled and blamed for Yuichi's role in the crime. Yoshino's parents are blames for raising a girl that would behave like a prostitute. These individuals struggle with guilt and responsibility. Keigo, who played an active role in her murder, putting her in such a situation that would compromise her safety, seemingly feels no guilt or responsibility in her death, instead making a joke of the events.
The novel put into question all the characters and their role in the events leading to the murder of Yoshino. The media depicts a certain storyline, the characters themselves depict another. The author puts everything the reader knows into question at the end of the novel. Throughout the novel, the reader feels sympathy for Yuichi. However, at the end, his character is put into question. His true character remains unclear.
Though this novel had a rocky start in my books, overall I enjoyed reading it. It is not as dark and depressing as the cover art and synopsis imply. In my opinion, the cover art is not consistent at all with the novel. I appreciated some of the literary devices and enjoyed the conclusion to the book, which left me questioning many of the characters and events. All in all, a decent read.
About the Author
Shuichi Yoshida was born in 1968 in Nagasaki, Japan. He went on to study business administration at Hosei University. His first book was published in 1997, titled Saigo no Musuko or The Last Son. He has won a number of literary awards in Japan for his works and has experienced increasing popularity for his works. His novel Paredo or Parade was made into a movie in 2010.Akunin or Villain was published in 2007 and also made into a movie in 2010.
Things I Liked About This Novel
1. I liked the juxtaposition of characters. I liked some, didn't like others, and changed my opinion once or twice.
2. I liked how Yoshinos father dealt with his grief and confronted Keigo.
3. I liked Yuichi's grandmother, Fusae. I also admired her courage in shaking off her fears at the end of the novel.