DEATH’S LONG SHADOW
KANAE MINATO’S PENANCE IS A WORK OF PURE GENIUS
IN KANAE MINATO’S PENANCE, four 10-year-old girls—Sae, Maki, Akiko and Yuka—are a close-knit group of friends growing up together in rural Japan. But everything takes a terrifying turn when posh Emily moves to their small town from the big city.
One day when the girls are out playing, a man in coveralls, whose face they cannot remember afterwards, asks the pretty-as-Barbie Emily to give him a hand with some maintenance work and promises them ice creams if she cooperates. Later, when the girls go looking for Emily, they find her in a pool of blood, molested and murdered. Emily’s deranged mother blames the four girls—which seals their fates. Nothing can ever be normal again.
Sae suffers such profound psychological trauma from having seen the blood between Emily’s legs that she never begins to menstruate. As an adult, she is romantically drawn to a pervert who wants to turn her into a porcelain puppet. Maki is burdened by her own guilt—she was supposed to have been the mature one but acted like a coward—and does her penance by killing a confused madman. The tomboyish Akiko, secretly impressed by Emily’s precocious Barbie feminism, subconsciously decides never to grow up, but sinister circumstances envelop her immediate family. Yuka, who felt bullied by Emily, ends up an adulteress and a shoplifter.
One death casts a large shadow. Meanwhile, the novel shape-shifts and alters perspective, replaying the fateful events through the prisms of several narrators to create a work of pure genius. With only her second translated novel, Minato joins the growing list of Japanese thriller writers discovered by the rest of the world. Previous stars include Keigo Higashino— author of brilliantly deceptive literary thrillers such as Malice—as well as Natsuo Kirino, Fuminori Nakamura and Hideo Yokoyama, among others whose work has also been translated into English.
What makes their writing stand out from the cluttered crime scene of global noir is their minimalist prose, elegant as the art of bonsai. Yet, despite the slender beauty that characterises their narratives, these Japanese thrillers feature psychological studies as layered as origami, steeped in a harakiri type of doom.
Minato’s new novel is exactly what we’ve come to expect of this contemporary Japanese school of thriller writing. She’s in total control of her craft which is as stylish as it gets, each sentence carved and polished to the bone. Everything is out in the open, which is what makes her book so intensely creepy—and that, despite a clumsy job of translation.
WITH THIS TRANSLATION, MINATO JOINS THE LIST OF JAPANESE THRILLER WRITERS DISCOVERED BY THE REST OF THE WORLD