4. A book written in East Asia: Confessions by Kanae Minato, translated by Stephen Snyder
List Progress: 11/30
I went into Confessions, a 2012 novel by Kanae Minato, with high hopes, given the praise my fiancee Andrea had given the book. Even without that personal touch, the premise was enticing: a middle school teacher accuses some of her students of murdering her four-year-old daughter. It’s practically Hitchcockian in how many layers of tension are woven into the very premise. I was a bit worried that I would be expecting too much going in, but Confessions did more than enough to live up to my hopes. I finished the book yesterday and I feel like I’m still not done with it, like I want to immerse myself in the twisted narrative for longer. That is one of the highest praises I can give to a novel, and it earned it.
Middle school teacher and single mother Yuko Moriguchi is convinced that two of her students were behind the apparently-accidental death of her four-year-old daughter Manami. The almost fifty page first chapter is told in the second person, as Moriguchi gives a speech to her entire class, weaving back and forth across many topics and accusations, capturing the reader in her words as surely as she does her students. It has been said, correctly so, that the first chapter could stand as a discrete short story, but taking it out of context would lose some of the perverse beauty of the rest of the novel. Each chapter introduces another narrator, another format by which they are telling their story, and another shade of guilt, blame, and excuse for each character’s actions. This is a mystery novel that actually does earn the title of “puzzle box”.
All of this praise is not to say that it will appeal to everyone. I can’t quite decide how I feel about the novel’s use of HIV and AIDS as a major plot point, where infection is literally weaponized. You could make an argument that the book is demonizing infected people, or you could see it as a condemnation of how the Japanese media portrays those with AIDS, separate from the real lives of these people. I think the truth falls somewhere in the middle, but I would not blame anyone who found it uncomfortable.
Confessions is tense, disturbing, and an absolute page turner. Think a more meditative and experimental version of something like Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn. If you have any interest in crime, mystery or psychological novels, I would recommend this one.
Would I Recommend It: Very much so.