Continuing my book reviews written some time ago…

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Winner of the Japan Mystery Writers Award, Naoko is a black comedy of hidden minds and lives. Navigating the interstices between the real and the unreal with perfect plot twists, this page-turner is also a critique of gender relations by a male Japanese writer, one of their best-sellng.

An everyman, Heisuke works hard at a factory job to provide for his wife, Naoko, and young daughter, Monami. He takes pleasure from the small things, like breakfast with both of them after a night shift. His placid life is rocked when, looking up from his microwave dinner one evening, he realizes the TV news that he wasn’t paying attention to is reporting a catastrophic bus accident and the names of his loved ones.

When Monami finally wakes from a coma, she seems to think she’s Naoko, who has died protecting her daughter. More disturbingly, the girl knows things only Naoko could know. The family life that resumes between the modest man and a companion who looks like his daughter and seems like his dead wife is ticklish-funny until it begins hurtling toward a soul-shattering end.

It’s been a while since I took less than a week to finish a novel. This is just a sublime piece of work. I first read The Devotion of Suspect X by the same author some time ago and bought Naoko at the same time. Thing is, I really hate Keigo Higashino… he fricking made me tear up! The end of chapter 38 made my eyes well up and the end of chapter 39 and all the way to the soul-shattering ending, my soul was in shambles. What an amazing ending – there are at least a couple of ways to understand it depending on your disposition! That’s not to say the rest of the chapters are nothing much. It’s really surprisingly good… in the beginning I thought I was reading something supernatural (the Japanese are so good at this), then it became a mystery, sashaying into romance, then heartbreak, revenge and… get ready for this… underage sex. I will not divulge the last point but suffice to say it was amazingly, poignantly and deftly handled, not at all salacious. The novel questions our concept of morality, mortality, immortality and gender play. I can’t remember the last book that have made me ponder so much about life. I have just finished reading it 30min ago and I still feel like I have lost something… but in a good way. The good ones always do that for me.

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