My first foray to the local library in a long time yielded a thoroughly dark, thoroughly enjoyable Japanese school thriller (translated into English).
I didn’t go to my local library with its large (relatively) English section for probably about eighteen months. Not coincidentally, my son is now seventeen months old and while it’s been a struggle to find as much time for reading as I once had, I’ve started to crave the library again. While I’ve had plenty of new and secondhand books to devour over the past couple of years, I was eager for something different again and so when the chance arose, I was off there at once.
And wow! It felt so good to be surrounded by so many books again that I could take away with me if I so desired, spoiled for choice and alone with the luxury to peruse the shelves at my leisure. The library even had a special display up of the new English books they got in to 2016 to really excite me. It was wonderful!
For all the other choices I had before me, though, I still ended up with “Confessions” by Kanae Minato. I love a good school thriller and this book drew me in at once. Maybe it’s because I work as a teacher, or maybe it’s because I (like a lot of people, if they’re being honest about it) have hang-ups about my own school days that I should work through at some point. Either way, a blurb containing the premise of school students doing weird, forbidden and/or just plain awful things immediately tends to grab my attention.
“Confessions” opens with a narration by Yuko, a middle school teacher to whom a terrible tragedy has just befallen. Now about to retire from teaching, she takes it upon herself to reveal to her students that what has happened was no accident. Instead, it was a crime, one perpetuated by two of her pupils, and now she is out to exact revenge.
The viewpoint switches several times in the scenes that follow to examine the fallout of what Yuko has said, done and had done to her. Narrators include Mizuki, the class president, each of the perpetrators, and the diary of one of their mothers as read by his older sister. Multiple twists and turns ensue before the novel reaches its shocking conclusion.
Minato’s writing is just the way I like it, sparse and direct but still with plenty of interesting details. She doesn’t do red herrings; everything is loaded with significance and it’s just a matter of waiting to find out how it all fits together. I realise that describing it as such makes it sound predictable but, for me at least, it was anything but.
I loved this. It’s a fast but intense read, dark yet thoroughly enjoyable and quite thought-provoking. Some familiarity with Japanese culture and conventions might be helpful, but it’s not necessary; just try to accept that yes, certain stigmas still definitely exist here, a bunch of teenagers would be served up milk like it or not here in the early 21st century, and there seems to be a weird convention in Japanese literature to not name places or schools with even made-up names.
If the depictions of Japanese schools you have come across so far leave you rolling your eyes at their saccharine nature, then this dark counterpoint is definitely worth investigating.