Monday, November 17, 2014

A twisted affair

Last Winter We Parted

By Fuminori Nakamura


Publisher:  Soho Press 

Pub. Date: October 21, 2014

Rating; 2 out of 5 stars

In many ways, Japanese suspense and mystery novels are an acquired taste. They tend to be darker than American and European novels of the same genre and more likely to be inundated with strange, unlikable and, dare I say, inscrutable characters. They also tend to be amazingly imaginative and philosophically oriented. Fuminori Naklamura's Last Winter We Parted is certainly all of that. Yet as a whole it is not all that exciting.

The basic plot involves a journalist who is interviewing a man, a photographer by trade, on death row who killed two women by setting them on fire. He admits to killing them but blames the women himself. The journalist's investigation leads to the the commended man's sister and an artist that makes dolls resembling the buyer's loved ones. Quickly the journalist becomes intimately involved with the sister and is pulled into their twisted relationships. He begins to regret his involvement in the investigation. This all leads to a surprising and satisfying twist at the end.

So what's the problem? While the protagonist becomes overly involved and entrenched in the story, we do not. There is very little to involve us. All the characters are too unlikeable and we know very little about them even after a few convoluted back-stories. But the main culprit is the poor structuring of the story. There is a mix of first person narrative plus narration through letters and even Twitter. It is often nearly impossible to figure out whose perspective we are looking at. The result is a disorienting mix of viewpoints that blunt any chance for involvement. When we get to the end we can appreciated the strange twist but it is a cold appreciation of style over emotion. In foreign language novels, it is easy to blame the translation and I do think there is some blame headed that way. But mainly the author 's obsession with literary style becomes as relentless as his allegedly murderous photographer's obsession for his art. Overall, it was a impressive attempt to tell a different type of thriller yet not a successful one.

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