Piercing – Ryu Murakami (Book Review)


After reading and enjoying In the Miso Soup, I spotted this book shortly afterwards! Fairly short and so I gave it a go:

Kawashima Masayuki is a graphic designer living in Tokyo with his wife, Yoko, and their healthy baby girl. Outwardly, their lives are a picture of happiness. Every night, however, unable to sleep, Kawashima creeps from his bed and stands over his newborn child with an ice-pick in his hand, and an almost visceral desire to use it.

The book follows the decision by Masayuki to carry out a murder in order to satisfy the desire in him to harm his child. He decides that this best be a prostitute, and done under a false name. He makes his excuses and books a hotel room for a week.

His plan is set – he will hire a prostitute specialising in BDSM, have her tied up, and use that opportunity to carry out his plans. Only it turns out the prostitute sent to him is just as traumitised psychologically as he is – her upbringing too is effecting her thoughts.

The book is creepy in it’s own way as two damaged people misunderstand each other through the own false interpretations of the world: one perhaps through over-trusting, the over through distrust. This leads to some interesting insights into how the thought life of each person can interpret the same events in very different lights; a sort of cognitive-dissonance.

Though not as engaging as In the Miso Soup, this book follows very much a similar vein of writing – people with evil intentions facing various challenges in Tokyo night-life. Brutality and no barriers to descriptions of cruelties present, and absence of resolution completes it. I quite like this about Ryu Murakami though – the endings are very interesting in their “incompleteness”.

I felt in some ways that this book was trying to be creepy though. There were some clever bits, but other parts felt a little forced and predictable.

Perhaps if you have read In the Miso Soup this might be worth a read, but I certainly preferred the former! I will read more Murakami though, certainly an interesting guy in a strange way.


In the Miso Soup – Ryu Murakami (Book Review)


I’ll be honest, I was attracted by the strange title and interesting front-cover. I’m also trying to read shorter books in preparation of facing down War and Peace later in the year. But this was a pleasant (?) surprise:

 In the Miso Soup tells of Frank, an overweight American tourist who has hired Kenji to take him on a guided tour of Tokyo’s sleazy nightlife. But Frank’s behavior is so strange that Kenji begins to entertain a horrible suspicion—that his new client is in fact the serial killer currently terrorizing the city. It is not until later, however, that Kenji learns exactly how much he has to fear and how irrevocably his encounter with this great white whale of an American will change his life.

Kenji, a young Japanese man, makes living from taking foreigners around Tokyo’s nightlife, most those with the intention of finding strip clubs or hiring prostitutes. Kenji being well connected makes a fair living from this, though un-registered as a tour guide.

When he is hired for three nights on the run up to New Years Eve by an American named Frank, he first suspects a similar job to usual – a business man in the country for a few days looking to find a prostitute before leaving back to his home life in America. But, something about Frank is very strange, and Kenji becomes unnerved by suspicions of Franks true identity and desires.

The book, unsurprisingly, is very dark and described in such detail as to only be recommended with those who approach it expecting this. The descriptions of murders around Tokyo and the “sleazy nightlife” are skimped out on, and are given as graphically as possible. Though perhaps in a way to shock the reader to the realities of the life there.

It was truly saddening to hear even fictitious lives of prostitutes in Japan who are often young and down on their luck, meaning they sell “there only marketable thing”: their body. The men who approach them are looking only for a bit of fun, but for them it’s a life which has become inescapable.

I found myself drawn into the darkness of the world portrayed, and I found it hard to stop reading out of curiosity for what will happen next. I don’t often read thrillers but if many are like this one, perhaps I should…

I recommend this for anyone interesting in Japanese life or literature, but only if you approach it knowing it’s a little dark: not as bad as American Psycho, but certainly in a similar vein!

The ending was very poetic in a way, and left a lot of things open intentionally it seems, as fitting for the story.

Penance – Kanae Minato (Book Review)


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.

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


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)


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)


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.