Oct 01, 11
Read from September 03 to 15, 2011
This was an interesting detective story, though a little overly complicated, perhaps even mired in the details. Having just visited Japan, I felt there was something authentically Japanese about this attention to detail, perhaps even at the expense of the overall or general. Characters seem to want more fleshing out, setting as well. And the narrative is a bit disjointed.
A murder victim found on the train tracks in late 20th century Tokyo remains unidentified for the longest time, until a bumpkin from the hinterland surfaces to identify him. An avant garde art group consisting of a painter, a dramatist, an architect, a composer and a critic weaves into and out of the story in the beginning, and we get tantalizing snippets of various characters and sub narratives. Each of the avant garde group's members gets his turn, as do members of the avant garde theater group.
But somehow it seems we only get tantalizingly superficial descriptions. Inspector Imanishi's interactions with his wife, with his colleagues, even with his own thoughts never seem to cross into the desired level of self-analysis or character development. I wonder if this was intentional, echoing Ukiyo, the depictions of the floating world, where a particular aspect or detail of the floating world is portrayed, and meant to evoke, as opposed to fully describing or depicting.
There is incidentally the occasional, but potent/effective reference to World War II, again focusing on details, such as how village records were destroyed by Allied bombing, and how these records were reconstructed in a piecemeal way, including by having (sometimes unreliable) personal verification of facts and history (in itself an interesting topic). Again, a quiet, but portentious interlude from the main story, but giving depth and color to it.
In the end, there is a quickening of the narrative, perhaps a little too quick, focusing on one of the avant garde group's members, but I finished the book feeling it was oddly successful in its conveying a visceral sense of Japanese culture/aesthetics, the attention to detail, the quietness, the persistence.