DEATH’S LONG SHADOW

KANAE MINATO’S PENANCE IS A WORK OF PURE GE­NIUS

India Today - - LEISURE - —Zac O’Yeah

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

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