Naoko Paperback – Aug 1 2004
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Winner of the Japan Mystery Writers Award
“Higashino is a deft conjurer of human relationships, and while this is first and foremost a tale of grief— thankfully, no one calls Naoko a story of redemption—he infuses it with spasms of sharp humor.” —East Bay Express
“The novel flips suddenly…in wonderfully pleasing fashion, from pathetic tragedy to social satire and domestic comedy with themes of love, work, sex and education. How could we have ever imagined, without the help of a novel like this, that Japanese life could be so fraught with suffering and so entertaining all at once?” —Alan Cheuse for the Dallas Morning News
"It's the realness of the characters ..that makes the fantastic story more believable and harder to put down." - Mecha Mecha Media Blogspot
About the Author
Born in 1958, Keigo Higashino studied electrical engineering and worked as a salaryman until he wom the Edogawa Rampo Mystery Award in 1985. Originally a detective novelist, he has branched out to other genres, including science fiction. Naoko is his first work to appear in English.
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The characters and what happens to them brought out very real emotions in me. I unconsciously made faces as I reacted to what was happening. This was one of those books that really touched me and I can't recommend it enough. I feel like I have had, or could have, the same feelings and fears that are displayed in this book. That helped me identify with the characters and I would recommend this book to anyone looking for a deep, personal, and very interesting story.
Naoko dies in the bus crash, while Monami is left in a coma. When Monami regains consciousness, she tells Heisuke she is Naoko, that the spirit of the mother has taken over the body of the daughter.
What follows are the social and psychological consequences of this apparently supernatural event, for Heisuke, and for Naoko/Monami. They decide to tell no one, to keep it a secret. In fact, the Japanese title of the book, Himitsu, means Secret. Once Heisuke becomes convinced that the metempsychosis is real, and permanent, he grieves because he has lost his daughter, while all those about him think he has lost his wife. For "Naoko" to maintain their secret, she must continue Monami's life as an elementary school student.
The author, Keigo Higashino, carefully and skillfully works out the logical consequences of this event. How would a married man, of normal sexual desires, deal with a situation where the spirit of his wife is inhabiting the body of his young daughter? Higashino does deal with the issue of conjugal relations, although briefly, and in a non-salacious way. Most of the book dwells on the development of Naoko/Monami, as she matures socially. In a sense, it is answering the question, what would you do if you were a middle aged housewife, and you suddenly and unexpectedly got to live your life over again, from the age of eleven? What would you do differently? Could you, in fact, correct your life's mistakes? Could you become a better person? And in a question fraught with tragedy and irony, what do you do when your husband is now, physically, your father?
I read this book in two days. My basic impression is that it is interesting and thoughtful. It's not exciting, it's not gripping, but it is satisfying. Not a great book, but a pretty good book. Worth buying, if you like that kind of thing.
One quibble: The English translation, by Kerim Yasar, consistently writes "all right" as "alright." Perhaps this was done to reflect Heisuke's lack of education, paralleling something in the underlying Japanese, but it's jarring, and ineffective.
When author Keigo Higashino is focused on this complex relationship, his novel is quite involving and even moving, although it is not as suspenseful or edgy as the cover copy would have us believe. Unfortunately, there is quite a bit of extraneous material to slow down a narrative that is already rather relaxed and subdued. I kept waiting for Heisuke's investigation into the circumstances of the bus crash and the driver's background to tie in with the main narrative, but it never did. I also couldn't help thinking that, given Naoko's detailed knowledge of her own life, they probably could have convinced members of Naoko's family about what had happened, thereby sharing the burden. However, the end of the novel is quite touching and satisfactory.
However, the story towards the end was a bit predictable: I knew what was going to happen, so the final "twist" wasn't that shocking. Nevertheless, I recommend this book since it is entertaining and thought provoking.