Translated by Alison Watts
Wow! In just over 200 pages, Riku Onda creates real suspense in this psychological drama and she maintains this tension right until the end. I loved it!
The story alternates between two narrators, Aki and Hiro. They had shared a Tokyo apartment, but their relationship is now finished. They have agreed to meet together back in their now-empty apartment for one last night before going their separate ways. What caused the break-up? Well, it appears to emanate from a holiday they had together, hiking in the mountains. They had hired a guide – but the guide died inexplicably. That tragedy caused an irreparable rift, doubly so because each believes the other is responsible.
She has to confess. I have to make her do that tonight. […]
Can I do it? At some point during this night, will I be able to get her to say with her own lips that she killed that man?
The doorknob turns and the door opens with a click.
I arrange my face into a smile, ready to greet the man who may be planning to kill me.
Aki and Hiro will have a picnic in the empty flat, using Aki’s suitcase as a table. They’ll sleep on the floor and the next morning that’s it – final separation. But as we’ve seen already, both have a plan for how the conversation is going to go. Apart from Hiro nipping out to get more drinks and have a fag, the action stays in the apartment creating such an atmosphere of claustrophobia.
It’s not clear what their relationship is either – were they just friends and flatmates or were they lovers? That’s rather simplistic – it’s far more complicated than that, but I’m not going to ruin that mystery for you. They must have been close, but how?
At the beginning of the story, while they eat their picnic, Aki in particular dislikes the smell of the dish that Hiro is devouring – we can see there is a distance between them now. They tell each other their plans Aki is going to Vietnam with a friend (that’s a lie, but she wants Hiro to believe she’s gone). Hiro will move in with his new girlfriend – but he seems a bit ambivalent about that. It’s time for less of the small talk. Time to bring up the elephant in the room – what happened to the mountain guide? The narrative goes into flashback, but maintains the alternating chapters told by Hiro and Aki.
This novel is so carefully plotted. Riku Onda gives us the information bit by bit and with plenty of sleight of hand. Often we have two slightly different versions, one from Hiro, the other from Aki. Who is telling the truth? The different perspectives of the two protagonists keep the suspense sky high. She gradually teases out how the pair met and eventually moved in together, elements of their childhoods, and of course, their accounts of the holiday and the truth about their relationship.
Although billed as a mystery and psychological thriller, this novel is rather more than that with its unconventional structure and reveals. It is so cleverly done and this was an addictive read, impeccably translated by Alison Watts. There is that feel to the writing that only the Japanese seem to be able to do – being slightly aloof and dreamy, but completely lucid at the same time. If you enjoy that kind of storytelling, at 204 pages, you can read it in one session–one night even like the book itself!
This is the second novel by Riku Onda to be translated into English, I must read The Aosawa Murders, the first, now. She is a name to remember, and I loved Fish Swimming in Dappled Sunlight.
Source: Review Copy – Thank you! Bitter Lemon Press – 204 pages, paperback original. BUY at Blackwell’s via my affiliate link.