Natsuo Kirino (Translated by Rebecca Copeland)
Fiction; Contemporary Literature
One of the most interesting novels I’ve read yet this year. I have not heard of the author before, but she’s apparently well known in Japan. I can see why. I was completely drawn in, and that’s saying a lot about a book I normally would not have picked up.
It’s narrated primarily by a woman whose name we never learn, but we really don’t need her name after glimpsing into her dark, confused and vicious mind, which tells us all we need to know. She and her sister Yuriko are born to a Japanese mother and a Swedish father, and Yuriko, the younger, is so transcendently beautiful that her sister characterizes her as a monster. Her – the older sister and primary narrator’s - life is utterly consumed with bitterness and jealousy over Yuriko’s otherworldly beauty, and it is a life never fully lived because of that rage.
What prompts her to tell her tale is Yuriko’s murder, and, ironically, the murder of Kazue, a former schoolmate and half-rival, half-friend. Although the narrator has seen neither her sister nor Kazue in many years at the times of the murders, their brutal deaths bring the past into full, cruel light.
But this book is not really about murder, or the subsequent trial, or even about the killer, from whose viewpoint we read for a while about three quarters of the way through. It’s the unnamed older sister that captivates your attention with her destructive, sad, malicious yet sympathetic soul. She’s a fascinating, frightening character, and I felt so deeply embedded in her twisted mind that it was a little eerie.
It was interesting to get a view of Japanese culture that an American like me doesn’t usually see, a world still adhering to many of the old-school hierarchies and class distinctions. The culture clash between the Japanese and the Chinese also plays a significant role, particularly in regards to the accused killer, Zhang.
A dark and compelling read. I read through it pretty quickly because it held my attention so well!