Penance – Kanae Minato (Book Review)

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After reading Confessions earlier this year, I immediately bought Manato’s second book as soon as I heard there was one!

When they were children, Sae, Maki, Akiko and Yuko were tricked into separating from their friend Emily by a mysterious stranger. Then the unthinkable occurs: Emily is found murdered hours later. 
Sae, Maki, Akiko and Yuko weren’t able to accurately describe the stranger’s appearance to the police after the Emily’s body was discovered. Asako, Emily’s mother, curses the surviving girls, vowing that they will pay for her daughter’s murder. 

This book is similar to Confessions in some aspects – it follows essentially the results of one persons act of vengeance. After the murder of Emily, Asako vows that her friends will pay if they do not find the murderer or pay a kind of penance for not saving her daughter.

As a result of this, the book follows the girls lives as they grow up with both the trauma of finding their dead friend, and the threat from her mother. Each follows a different path in life with different consequences stemming from this promise of revenge.

I couldn’t help but think that this novel would have benefited more from being longer, however, as I didn’t feel overly attached to many of the characters or their ensuing fate. In fact I struggled to recall one of the girls story line until it was repeated in a conversation in the final chapter.

The story ends with a solid conclusion – where the actions of one are considered with the effects on the many.

It does seem like Minato has a knack for endings though and this novel is again rounded off perfectly – I felt completely satisfied with the ending, which is something which is often hard to attain.

Though perhaps not as good as Confessions, it is still worth the read. I’m hoping for many more books from this author, though I’d like to see some more variety in the stories. Clearly a very talented writer.

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The Postman’s Fiancée – Denis Théirault (Book Review)

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I mentioned a little while back in a post titled Five Book Tags that I recommend a book called “The Peculiar Life of a Lonely Postman” to everyone – well I found out the author was writing a sequel, and after some waiting, it has arrived!

Twenty-two-year-old Tania has moved to Montreal to study, fine-tune her French and fall in love. Finding work as a waitress in an unpretentious down-town restaurant, she meets Bilodo, a shy postman who spends his days perfecting his calligraphy and writing haiku. The two hit it off. But then one stormy day their lives take a dramatic turn, and as their destinies become entwined Tania and Bilodo are led into a world where nothing is as it seems.

The book is a sequel I never expected with the ending of the previous being so rounded perfectly – so I was a bit curious to how this would fit in:

This sequel fits into the first in an unexpected way, which though works, felt a bit like forcing an almost-correct jigsaw piece next to another.

The characters are almost equally creepy in their approach to romance – Tania taking advantage of Bilodo’s amnesia to trick him into thinking he once lover her is a little bit strange to call a romance – though that’s how many have classified the book.

There is humour throughout too which fits perfectly, and the writing style is indescribably surreal, giving a weird atmosphere to the book so unlike your typical novel.

I’m afraid to say though that following the first one, this one is a bit less perfectly rounded – it leads some unanswered questions that the prequel didn’t, and though it was a good read – it wasn’t exactly what I had hoped!

The ending relied too much on Bilodo being somewhat blind to the obvious, with the haiku of Granpré, the mysterious English professor, being such a giveaway, he’d have to almost never have read them to not see the clues throughout – which frankly, I don’t believe he would have done.

Still, they are both worth reading – and I am glad I have done so.

 

Confessions – Kanae Minato (Book Review)

I saw the movie Confessions a little while back, and so was pleasantly surprised to be reminded of it recently in the form of a book recommendation:

Now it’s the last day of term, and Yuko’s last day at work. She tells her students she’s resigned because of what happened – but not for the reasons they think.

Her daughter didn’t die in an accident. Her daughter was killed by two pupils in the class. And before she leaves, she has a lesson to teach…

But revenge has a way of spinning out of control, and Yuko’s last lecture is only the start of the story.

Yuko is a teacher in a middle-school, and a single mother to 4 year old Manami. The opening book is her final lecture to her class before she resigns, in which she reveals, though whilst keeping the pupil’s identities secret, that she knows who murdered her daughter, and explains her revenge – in the form of infecting them with HIV

The rest of the book is written in different forms as we follow the consequences of the two pupils and their lives after the teacher has resigned.

The book is written in several parts, varying the point-of-view: one chapter a diary, the next a will, the next a phone-call, and so on.

The story is gripping, and I would encourage anyway to not be put off by the terible cover-art, and the cheesy tagline – the story is a lot more in-depth and lot darker than it would appear.

Reflections on the responsibilities of parents, society, and teachers towards children is often analysed throughout the book, with due consideration to how much responsibility a child should bear for the actions – especially one such as murder.

Some of the characters are even intentionally frustrating – such as one of the pupils over-protective mother who insists her child is just as much a victim as the murdered girl.

The end is fantastic too, circling off the whole story whilst frustrating the culprits.

Worth a read and very short – recommended for Japanese lit fans, or those in search of a good thriller.

Norwegian Wood – Haruki Murakami (Book Review)

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Being Murakami’s most popular book, and having enjoyed the others of his I have read, I decided Norwegian Wood should be a book I read before the end of the year:

Toru, a young university student in Tokyo, is living a fairly lonely life after the suicide of his best friend. His friend’s girlfriend, Naoko, whom Toru previously had nothing but mutual friend in common with each other, begins walking with Toru regularly, hardly talking.

Toru receives a letter from Naoko saying she is now in a sanitorium and is seemingly coming to terms with her trauma. Around htis itme, he also meets Midori, a ‘sexually liberated’ fellow student.

The story essentially follows the relationships between characters, rather than an overbearing plot throughout the book. It is more of a study of humans rather than events which happen to them. The event which triggers a reaction happens fairly early on – the suicide of Kizuki, the character’s mutual friend.

I got thinking about half way through that this book is for another time – I think it is likely better than how I was experiencing it… perhaps something which makes more sense when unsaid.

The book seems to have regular explicit scenes between Toru and pretty much every female character – which I found strange as Toru (though many characters seemed to disagree with me) seemed fairly average in just about all aspects.

Again, perhaps I’m simply too busy to put more energy into understanding the book.

Overall not the strongest of Murakami’s books I have read. I found it difficult to truly care about the characters, and wasn’t gripped by anything that made it hard to put down. I would regularly stop mid-way through chapters without much worry about what was to happen next.

I will try again in the future with this one though!

Patriotism – Yukio Mishima (Book Review)

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The image is explained by the fact the book has a white cover… oh well. This book was presented to me as an example of Japanese literature. Being described as ‘Nabokovian’ too, perhaps as a method of convincing me to try.

Shinji, a lieutenant in the Japanese army, arrives home to inform his wife that his friends have become mutineers. Due to his position in the army, he has been ordered to lead the attack against them.

Unwilling to slaughter his friends, Shinji decides that he must commit seppuku, and informing his wife of this, his wife decides to join him.

The book describes the last night the couple spend together before taking part in their mutually agreed upon ritual suicide.

The tension of the book was felt throughout, with the reader and characters being made fully aware of what was to come.

The whole feel of the short story is intense, and the attitude with which the characters face their death is with both bravery and sorrow.

The book is very well written for one so short. The writer manages to raise so many questions about the choices made by the characters. Their seemingly mundane activities before the event being doing with a gruesome level of normality. The act itself being described so graphically that you can almost feel it.

Being from a Western culture, the act of seppuku can often be quite staggering. When faced with the ‘honourable’ thing to do in battle, most Western armies agree to die by the hand of the enemy. In fact, deserting is a serious offence, and in the examples such as WW1, returning to safety meant returning to the gunfire of your previous allies.

In Japan, however, it seems more honourable to die by your own hands in the ritualistic way than to allow your enemies victory. It’s quite the opposite in terms of an ‘honourable death’ to what we expect, and so as a reflex the reaction is often one of disagreement: how can suicide be brave?

Yet strangely to myself, I felt that the way Shinji approached the event was certainly brave. The cold, sharp steel being just a fact to face up to. I don’t think I could do it… a slow and bloody death by a blade.

Overall the book was fantastic for it’s length. The author himself also dying by seppuku lends it a somewhat prophetic title and characteristic too.

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage – Haruki Murakami (Book Review)

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I was supposed to buy this when it was first released, but ended up putting it off until a few weeks back. I’ve read some Murakami in the past, so wanted to give his latest a try:

Tsukuru Tazaki belonged a friendship group of five throughout secondary school, each of the other four having colours in their name. The group has unwritten rules to create a perfect community, and were successful in doing so.

Whilst at college in Tokyo, Tsukuru recieves a phone call from the group informing him he was out, but the reasons for this were unclear.

As an adult, Tsukuru is encouraged to discover what happened all those years ago.

The plot isn’t as simple as ‘he didn’t have a colour in his name’, in face, the lack of colour only made him feel insignificant: as though he was boring, and contributed nothing to his friendships, Colourless.

As the story unravels it becomes apparent quickly that the reasons for his exile were a lot more complicated than it first seems. The turmoil Tsukuru must go through in order to find this out, however, is at high cost.

The book was well written, like a lot of Murakami’s stuff, and left me thinking more than a few times. The characters are well constructed too.

The ending of the book was a little ambiguous, but left me wondering: perhaps we were only given insight to his ‘years of pilgrimage’ after all, and now that pilgrimage had ended, and he was a changed man.

A recommended read for sure, though I know some die-hard Murakami fans don’t agree, but I see no real reason as to why!