Thursday, October 23, 2014

Review of Villain by Shuichi Yoshida (Vintage, 2010; Japanese 2007)

Yoshino Ishibashi works as an insurance sales agent, lives in a company apartment, hangs around and bitches with her friends Mako and Sari, and dates men she meets on internet sites while pretending to have a rich boyfriend, Keigo.  After a night out with her girlfriends she leaves them to head to Higashi Park telling them she is going to meet Keigo, but is really going to rendezvous with Yuichi, a quite, serious young construction worker who has travelled over the sinister Mitsuse Pass, that connects Nagasaki with Fukuoka City, to meet her.  The next morning she is found dead on the Pass having been strangled, Keigo has disappeared, and the police launch a murder investigation.  They quickly unravel Yoshino’s double life, but their search for the murderer moves more slowly. 

Villain is a thoughtful and thought-provoking read that could have easily been titled ‘Victim’, since the two roles are thoroughly entwined in Yoshida’s absorbing tale of the murder of a young insurance sales agent.  The great strength of the story is its telling, characterisation, contextualisation, atmosphere and plotting.  While keeping the temporal structure linear, Yoshida tells the tale from multiple perspectives using both third and first person voices to detail the relationships between characters and their interactions.  It’s a technique that works surprisingly well, I suspect because Yoshida’s narrative has an understated style, avoiding any melodrama, and yet captures the subtleties of emotion and human relations.  He does a particularly nice job of detailing the relationships between friends and family members and their petty jealousies, awkward moments, lonely reflections, secret fantasies and encounters.  These are nicely contextualised with respect to the social relations of Japanese society.  The result is a layered, nuanced and interesting tapestry of views that thorough unsettles and blurs any notion of villain and victim, and a compelling plot that charts the aftermath of the murder and how the case unfolds to a resolution, but never from the perspective of the police.  In this sense it’s a kind of police-less procedural.  I especially like the denouement that threw up as many questions as it answered, creating closure but leaving the reader pondering the tale.  In my view an excellent piece of literary crime fiction.

1 comment:

TracyK said...

Great review. I am so looking forward to reading this.