Librivore's Reviews > In the Miso Soup

In the Miso Soup by Ryū Murakami
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Aug 16, 11

Read in August, 2011

There are few things more frustrating in a story than underdeveloped characters. This book provides two such examples: interesting characters that fail to develop; and characters hijacked by the author to serve as his (or, in this instance, her) voice.

The concept of the story is promising enough: an american sex tourist hires a young, but disenchanted, japanese guide to explore the night attractions of the city. Add a neglected girlfriend, a murder, a splash of mystery and a passable translation and you have all the trappings of an enjoyable page-turner.

Unfortunately, a strange pattern emerges as the story unfolds: every so often, one of the characters launches of into an internal soliloquy about the (sliding) social norms in Japan and the various preconceptions held by Americans towards the Japanese culture or vice versa. At first, this is relatively engaging. However, it soon becomes obvious that those monologues are a vehicle for the author's personal thoughts and the characters serve as little more than a transparent façade. Preconceptions are deconstructed, only to be replaced by others, colored by mildly moralizing comments and the same-old, tired questions ("Where is our society going? Why are young people acting like this?")

[Spoiler warning! Everything after this point contains spoilers]

As the first chapter closes to an end, we are no closer to an answer than before and any excitement in the story has quickly worn off. Fortunately, the second chapter picks up the pace with a brutal murder that takes place right in front of our eyes. The author takes the time to describe everything in vivid, uncompromising detail and does so with such a relish that the scene feels a little too uncomfortably close to gorn. There is some foreshadowing, yes, but nothing prepares you for the sheer brutality of the deed.

The second chapter ends with the reader as dazed as the japanese guide who witnesses and unwittingly takes part in the murder. Both will be asking "why?", as the third chapter begins, searching for motives and an explanation. And that's where everything goes downhill: the explanations, when given, are laughable at best (satanists?) and downright ludicrous at worst (hypnotism, really?) As for motives? There are none, except for a passing phrase: "I am different".

Ultimately, the murderer spares the witness because he doesn't give him to the police. The guide goes back to his girlfriend who is waiting, as the murderer rides away into the sunset.

This is a book that doesn't work in almost any level: not as a mystery, not as a horror and certainly not as a character study. The story sucks, the characters suck, their motives are razor-thin, their character development non-existent and their actions defy all logic or explanation. Not only that, but the author spends time preaching and moralizing, while leaving significant plot-holes intact.

My recommendation: read only for the shock value in the murder description (2/5 stars). There is little else of value here, so don't feel bad if you pass.

Let me close with a rhetorical question: how does a known 12 year-old serial murderer escape notice for two decades? Don't expect a rational answer in this book.

Peace!
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