Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Premature Book Review: In the Miso Soup

Again, a book I have read, and again it is a contemporary Japanese thriller.

Ryu Murakami's In the Miso Soup is the story of Kenji, a young Anglophone who guides English-speaking tourists through Tokyo's seamier districts. Kenji is hired by Frank, whom he takes an immediate disliking to.

The book paints an unfamiliar picture of Tokyo for many of us. The date bars, massage parlours, and love hotels. The jaded attitudes of the patrons, employers, and prostitutes. It is an often ugly view of the adult nightlife, and is far from being the happy-party-time image many of us have of Amsterdam's Red Light District.

Frank, it turns out, is a serial killer. Trust me, this is not a spoiler. He has come to Japan for some fun. This book is highly brutal at times with some seriously disturbing imagery. This is a horror-thriller which borders on torture porn.

This was my first (well, only) book from Ryu Murakami. The lure of the Shinjuku district led me to buy the book, along with my interest in contemporary Japanese literature, but the prose kept me reading. It is not a sexy book, and Ryu Murakami paints either a highly realistic or highly imaginative picture of Tokyo. Kenji is likable, but with flaws. Frank is so unlikeable you almost want to quit reading. Think Ignatius J. Reilly (A Confederacy of Dunces) save that he has no redeeming qualities. He is not a Hannibal Lechter, nor is he a take on other real-life serial killers, save that he is nasty and mean.

If you enjoy crime fiction, and have high fortitude for the rough stuff, this is a very enjoyable book. It is definitely not for everyone.

A Kabukicho love hotel. Photo via


kenchan13 said...

i enjoyed this book as well but did u get the idea Frank is the representation of every american?

Darius Whiteplume said...

That is possible. I understand that the Japanese love American culture, but may be afraid of Americans (now the Bowie song is in my head).

I guess since we turned Southeast Asia into our own little whorehouse, it is an understandable portrait. It is reasonable to think that Americans feel they can go to Asia and do whatever they want, though IIRC Kenji didn't typically have problems with his clients. I pulled the book out again and plan to reread it after I finish The Big Sleep for, like, the fifteenth time. :-)

Japan has had some serial killers, so they likely have some of the same fascination with them we do in the US. Perhaps a foreign killer was more interesting?

kenchan13 said...

off subject but have you read any Haruki Murakami? Its like reading dreams.

Darius Whiteplume said...

I have read most of his books that are in English currently. The only one I cannot get through is the book on the subway attacks. I have not read "What I Talk About When I Talk About Running" (I think that is the title), and I am not big on his short stories. I love "Kafka on the Shore," "Norwegian Wood," and, well, most all of them. I think I like his short stories less because they tend not to be as dreamy. Possibly my favorite is "Wild Sheep Chase" but I wish the two leading up to it were available. I understand he is not happy with them, nor the translations. :-(

kenchan13 said...

the subway attacks book is quite repetitive. wind up bird and hard boiled are really good. cheers

Post a Comment