Parade by Shuichi Yoshida

Strangely discombobulating…

😀 😀 😀 😀 🙂

paradeFour young people are sharing a small flat in Tokyo, each having drifted there in a casual, unplanned way. Forced into a kind of physical intimacy by this living arrangement, each remains emotionally isolated and, as we discover, damaged to varying degrees by their pasts. Naoki is the eldest and something of a big brother figure to the rest – he originally shared the flat with his girlfriend, who left him for an older man but still pops back to visit and stay in the flat on occasion. Mirai works hard and plays hard, spending her evenings getting drunk in gay bars. Kotomi stays home all day watching TV and waiting for her soap-star boyfriend to ring. Ryosuke is a student and as we meet him he has just fallen in love with the girlfriend of his older friend and mentor. Then one morning a fifth arrives, Satoru – no-one really knows who invited him but in this casual set-up he soon becomes accepted as another flatmate, even though no-one is quite sure who he is or what he does when he works late at night.

Although this is billed as a crime thriller, it really falls much more into the category of literary fiction. There is a crime element but it’s almost entirely in the background for most of the book. There’s not much plot as such – this is more an examination of the somewhat empty and alienated lives of these young people. Each section of the book is narrated by a different character, so we get to see what they each think of the others and also to find out a bit about what has brought them here and made them who they are.

tokyo

Whenever I read Japanese fiction, I find it a strangely discombobulating experience – it always seems to reflect a society that is uneasy in its modernity, with a generation of young people who have thrown out the values of their elders but haven’t really found a way to replace them satisfactorily. There is always a sensation of drifting, of free-fall almost, and a kind of passivity that leaves me feeling as if there’s a dangerous void in the culture, waiting to be filled. But since I don’t know anything about Japan except through their fiction, I don’t know whether this is just a style of writing or whether it’s an accurate picture of the society.

I find Yoshida’s writing quite compelling and although I don’t always feel that I understand why his characters are as they are, I find them believable and fully rounded. The somewhat shocking ending of this one took me completely by surprise, and at first I felt almost as if the author hadn’t played fair with me. But a few days on I find the book is still running through my mind and I am seeing in retrospect what was hidden during the reading – which means that my appreciation for the ending has grown as I’ve gained a little distance from it.

Shuichi Yoshida
Shuichi Yoshida

Although this shares a translator, Philip Gabriel, with Yoshida’s first novel, I enjoyed the translation of this one much more. It is still Americanised but without the clumsy slang that irritated me so much in Villain.

On re-reading this review, I feel it isn’t giving a very clear picture of the book, and that’s actually a pretty accurate reflection of my feelings about it. I’m not sure I totally ‘got’ it (which happens to me a lot with Japanese fiction) but I am quite sure I found it a compelling and thought-provoking read. And I will most certainly be looking out for more of Yoshida’s work in future.

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Random House Vintage.

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

Villain by Shuichi Yoshida

villainAftermath of a violent crime…

🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

Somewhat let down by the clumsy Americanisation of the translation, this book is nevertheless a fascinating study of the people affected by the aftermath of a violent crime.

I found this to be very much a book of two halves. In the first we are told of the crime and introduced to the people affected by it, families and friends of both the victim and the suspects. I found the book very slow at the beginning – the author seemed obsessed by telling us the price of everything, from train fares to haircuts to road tolls. I wondered if this may have been intended to show the economic struggles Japan has faced in recent years but whatever the reason it made for tedious reading. We also received more detail than I felt necessary on the various roads around the region. I admit I did think about giving up on the book in the early stages.

This feeling was not helped by the translation which used American slang in a way that seemed terribly inappropriate to the subject matter at times. For instance, a suspect, when recounting a meeting with the father of the victim, says ‘Y’all killed mah daughter! The guy said and tried to grab me.’ This kind of thing promptly transported me out of Japan and into schlock westerns, I’m afraid.

Shuichi Yoshida
Shuichi Yoshida

However, I’m glad I read on. As the book progresses, we learn more about the people involved and get an insight into a society that seems very divided between the young and the old. At times, and especially towards the end, the book was very moving, particularly when describing the parents’ and grandparents’ love for their children whose way of life they do not understand. The victim, Yoshino, and her friends still long for the tradition of marriage but are as likely to look to form relationships online as in person, with all the dangers that that can entail. We are told a lot about the sleazy side of society: massage parlours, ‘love’ hotels, prostitution. But there is also love in this story, both romantic love and the love of family, and sacrifices made for love, and it was in these areas that I felt the book was strongest.

Not a traditional crime story by any means, I felt this book gave many insights into a rapidly changing society, a youth culture centred on the online world and, resultantly, the alienation of the different generations. If you can overlook the translation issues, this is a book well worth reading.

NB This book was provided for review by Amazon Vine UK.

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link