Karen's Reviews > Death Sentences

Death Sentences by Kawamata Chiaki
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's review
May 03, 2012

did not like it
bookshelves: 2012, specfic, bechdel_test_no

Warning: minor plot spoilers & also some possibly trigger-y stuff about sex and violence.


The use of the word "masterpiece" to describe this book is to stretch the meaning so thin that you could read the classifieds through it.

This translation of Kawamata's sixteenth novel (which won at least one major Japanese genre prize) is out of the U of Minnesota, so it comes larded with critical hoo-haw on both sides (foreword and afterword.) In between is a novel that reads sort of like this:

The woman was reading the novel.

She had seen the book listed in a university press catalog, and ordered it specially in advance of its general publication date.

It was supposed to be a fascinating mix of Japanese SF, mystery, and literary genres, which she found intriguing.

But the novel itself was not enjoyable to read. It made every sentence or two into a paragraph. The critics seemed to consider this "explosive," and "daring," or something.

The woman found herself skimming.

No kidding, every sentence is pretty much a paragraph, and the sentences are oddly generic and repetitive. Apparently this is a stylistic tic of Japanese popular novels, designed to give the reader nothing to dwell on in any particular sentence, thereby propelling her onward into the story. To which I say: Jesus Christ, that's a bad idea.

The book was published in 1984 and I don't know the order of precedence, but the underlying concept here--a surrealist poem that intoxicates and poisons people, killing them or possibly transporting them to another dimension--is very Ringu. If Kawamata came first, good for him. That idea is about the only interesting thing about this book, which declines to sully its hands with things like character development or ennobling language.

This is also a book with major gender trouble, a fact that I didn't see addressed in its critical apparatus. It looks to me as though everyone involved with bringing this book to market has a y chromosome, which might explain why nobody calls Kawamata on his bullshit. In a relatively short book that strips the narrative down to the barest essentials, we nonetheless get the following scenes:

* A detective strips a woman and finger-rapes her to extract a hidden item from her vagina, then shoots her in the head.
* Another detective tells a woman he's accosted that he'll let her go if she has sex with him. She has sex with him, dies anyway. (We get an explicit description of her genitalia before she dies.)
* The only female employee of a publishing company is repeatedly ogled by every man who meets her, complimented on her good looks, etc. She presents herself as the secretary of the boss for a business meeting, although she's an editor. She ends up marrying the editor in chief and quitting her own work, for no apparent reason. Not sure why she's in the book, actually.
* There are pretty much no other women in the book. There are basically no women with significant roles.

So. Maybe 1980s Japan wasn't the most egalitarian place, but this is a book translated and published in 2012. Seems to me like this is something worth mentioning, even if just to say, "Look, we think this is a great book but we know it has some weaknesses, try to take it with a grain of salt."

Anyway, if you're super-duper-into the Surrealist movement, enjoy bare-bones prose and nonexistent characterization, read mainly for concepts, and can put up with a lot of what the translators and editors consider challenging, bold stylistic moves and what I consider dropped plot threads, vague ideas, tense shifts, poorly-constructed scenes, and so on--and if you like a healthy dose of lady-bashing in your noir...this one's for you!!!
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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
May 3, 2012 – Shelved
May 3, 2012 – Shelved as: 2012
May 3, 2012 – Shelved as: specfic
May 19, 2012 – Shelved as: bechdel_test_no

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message 1: by Amanda (new)

Amanda Wow. D:

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