No. of Pages: 208
Publisher: Vintage International
Other: translated from Japanese
This is the first book by Natsuo Kirino that I have ventured a read through, but many blogs that a frequent has suggested her more recent books. This piqued my interest and when I saw this novel in a used book store I decided to give it a go. First off, let me explain a bit (or perhaps, a lot) of the plot:
The story follows a group of vapid and egocentric high school girls (Toshi, Yuzan, Terauchi, and Kararin) and a young, fairly idiotic, narcissistic and, at times, very smelly Japanese high school boy named–er, Worm (I don’t remember his actual name just his nickname). The story revolves around the days following Worm committing matricide by bludgeoning his mother to death with a baseball bat. The narrative jumps around in time, depending on who is the narrating voice, but it starts when Toshi, unknowingly, hears the murder take place and becomes the only witness to Worm being at the scene of the crime.
After Worm steals Toshi’s phone and bike, he goes about contacting all the girls on her cell phone contact list. Becuase he’s desperate like that, I guess. Despite his obviously social awkwardness and the horrible crime he just committed, Worm somehow gets many of Toshi’s friends to aide and assist him in hiding from the police. Throughout the books each narrator discusses their willingness or unwillingness to corroborate with the murderer and as a result also delves into and an introverted analysis of their own duplicity. Each character seems to be hiding the person they believe themselves to truly be under a mask of a societally acceptable behaviour.
That sort of sums things up… rather poorly. But nevertheless, that is the overarching plot of the novel. I must admit it was not quite what I expected namely because the back cover said that book would be “psychologically intricate and astute… a searing, eye-opening portrait of teenage life in Japan unlike any we have seen before.” Good marketing Vintage, I applaud you, because if this is an eye-opening portrait of teenage life in Japan then I feel profoundly sorry for the youth of that country.
Every single one of the teens in this book were so excessively self-centered that instead of seeing the horror of the brutal murder of a mother by a son, they sympathized with the murder as they all too have thought of murdering their mothers or envied him because he was so free from the pressure of having to study for exams or applying for university.
Holy bageezes! If the amount of pressure you are putting on your youth to always get the top grades and get into the right school drives them to murderous thoughts and actions then there is something incredibly wrong with society. Don’t take me for ignorant to the set-up of Japanese society, I actually have been fascinated with Japan from an early age and was driven to studying East Asian culture during my University degree. So I know a thing or two about the set-up of the Japanese culture and Asian family-dynamic, it’s because I know a bit about the society that I had such a hard time understanding this books blatant sympathizing with the murder of a family member. Is the modern youth of Tokyo pushed so far to their limits that their human compassion has erodeded almost completely away? Is the entire generation, the book is supposed to be speaking of, boarder-line or complete psychopaths? Because that’s what I was picking up.
Each girl stated, in no uncertain terms, that they couldn’t blame Worm or didn’t think they needed to tell the cops about the murderer they were speaking to because it wasn’t any of their business. Even the one who was a key witness placing Worm at the scene of the crime. And why does the boy think it is okay to murder his mother? Because the mother thought the son was a peeping Tom so she moved them to the suburbs. To set the record straight, the boy was a pervert and has some serious sexual repression issues.
So my conclusion, based on this book, is that the portrait that Natsuo Kirino wanted to paint of Japanese youth is that they are so shallow they cannot think beyond the now and of themselves. They all seems to obsess over sex so much that they either sleeping with anything that pays any attention to them or internalize their desire to the point of raging frustration (this one may be spot on with teens in general). Also there is a whole platoon of disgusting Manga and chat rooms laden with prevent men available to the youth of Japann (this one is also true). And lastly, the parents of this vapid, self-centered generation of youth are just a shallow and self-centered, only they are also neglectful and force their children to grow up too fast.
Holy bleak outlook, batman. I’ll give it 2 and a half reading cats (half a reading cat?! how horrid!) out of 5. Really. it wasn’t bad but it wasn’t a super compelling read.