Villain: A Novel Hardcover – Aug 3 2010
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“A complex and powerful exploration of the lives of a victim, a killer and their families and friends . . . Set in the sterile world of online dating and love hotels, Villain is a moving and disturbing novel about loneliness, lies and the gap between expectation and reality. Highly recommended.”
—Laura Wilson, The Guardian (London)
“A convincing portrait of today’s Japan.”
—Rob Sheffield, The Week (Best Books)
“A page-turning mystery . . . Ably translated by Philip Gabriel . . . [It] will make you think and will leave you guessing right up to the very end.”
“A ripping good story of murder and secrets . . . What sets Yoshida’s tale apart, however, is the way it plays with our modern identity issues. If you can upload a misleading and overly flattering photo to your online dating profile and clean up the shadowy bits of your life story, why can’t you do the same thing in your offline life? Start over, move away from your dinky little hometown, change your name, maybe even convince yourself that your lies are the truth. Where better to explore this transformation than Japan, where the contrast between its welcoming embrace of the wired world and its strong roots in tradition and custom makes for some pretty wicked tension . . . [Yoshida] writes with the cool confidence of a seasoned storyteller.”
—Jessa Crispin, NPR.org
“A compelling examination of loneliness and desperation.”
—Kathleen Daley, Newark Star-Ledger
“A complex portrait of contemporary Japan . . . Yoshida’s Japan is a place where families have begun to fragment but old bonds still remain, and where loneliness drives people to acts they wouldn’t otherwise consider. It’s a place where money is always on the minds of the characters - and the writer. Every cost, from the price of a love hotel (4,320 yen for three hours) to that of a fill-up with premium gas (5,990 yen) is documented. It’s a place of 7-11s and cheaply built condos, of glitzy bars and failing department stores. But it’s also a place where the supernatural and the unconscious exert their influence. Dark, cold Mitsuse Pass, where the murder takes place, is avoided by most motorists, who know it as a place where ghosts are likely to appear. Dark forces also twist the characters, who try without success to suppress the pasts that have shaped them.”
—Margaret Quamme, The Columbus Dispatch
“A psychological puzzle . . . Engrossing and unsettling . . . We encounter an assortment of contemporary Japanese citizens so alienated from one another and from any shared humanity that they seem like strangers even to themselves . . . This is an environment where people have internalized their own ambiguities. A character for whom one begins to feel sympathy may reveal a dark side—or perhaps only feign to reveal it in order to protect someone else.”
—Tom Nolan, The Wall Street Journal
“Shuichi Yoshida, Japan’s Stieg Larsson? . . . Villain is more than a typical ‘Whodunnit?’ suspense . . . Yoshida focuses on the motivations behind the crime through his portrayal of lost youth struggling to find direction and purpose . . . Suspense junkies that get a taste for the Japanese twist on the genre after reading Villain can rest assured that there is more to come.”
—Rosie Kusunoki Jones, “Japan Real Time,” a Wall Street Journal blog
“Hypnotizing . . . While the unfolding mystery holds our interest, Yoshida is really most concerned with exploring the alienation of his young characters and the lack of connective tissue between them. As the story takes a surprising turn toward the end, the author saves the biggest question for his readers: Who is the real villain: a killer who feels remorse, or a person who feels nothing at all?”
"Yoshida examines the lives of a victim and a killer in this subtle but powerful novel about collective guilt and individual atonement, his first book to appear in English translation . . . Multiple points of view reveal both slight and dramatic changes in a host of other people, including acquaintances and relatives, affected by the murder. Most impressively, Yoshida’s complex portrait of Japanese society leaves no doubt as to his characters’ actions, but tantalizing doubts about their meaning."
"Thrilling . . . The sort of book that is difficult to put down. [Villain] lays out a panorama of modern Japanese society, a patchwork of composed people of various classes and occupations . . . A modern literary achievement the like of which is rarely seen."
—Japan Book News
About the Author
Shuichi Yoshida was born in Nagasaki, Japan, in 1968. The author of nine books, he has won numerous literary awards in Japan and has also had several of his short stories adapted for Japanese television. Villain won the Osaragi Jiro Prize and the Mainichi Publishing Culture Award, two prestigious Japanese prizes. Yoshida lives in Tokyo.See all Product Description
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Villain could only have been written by a Japanese writer with centuries of aesthetic and philosophic subtlety to draw upon - and a keen eye for the scene in contemporary Japan. A bizarre love story is embedded in a net of interrelated storylines, all contributing to the astonishing denouement.
The main characters come together on the Internet, via online dating sites:
Yoshino, insurance saleswoman and amateur prostitute. Keigo, spoiled rich kid with a vicious streak. Yuichi, quiet young construction worker whose words flow only in his emails. Mitsuyo, a perfectly ordinary young woman about to be ruined (or ennobled?) by a rash and frenzied love.
People behave in the most unexpected ways. Respectable citizens go crazy. Nasty people show flashes of kindness. Circumstances push the characters out of character - and their reactions of desperation, love or fury seem perfectly understandable. Right and wrong take on a disturbing fluidity that leaves the reader aching with compassion for almost everyone concerned.
The murder takes place in an ominous setting chillingly described: a mountain road over the Mitsuse Pass, gloomy and lonely even in daylight. Crime has darkened this area before, and ghosts have been sighted.
Drivers only choose this frightening road to avoid the heavy expressway tolls. Avoiding tolls is something of a theme in this book. There's a sense that we can't really escape the effects of our actions, or those around us. The past takes its toll.
Oddly enough, this is not a depressing book. I was left feeling that life is amazingly rich, whatever happens, and that human beings are often heroic in ways that go unrecognized.
Not to be missed!
But, there is a "new wave" and it comes from Japan. It deals with alienation and character voids created by the sterility of modern post-industrial societies. This is the void from which all sorts of aberrations arise, some of which are perversely violent. The criminals are simultaneously vague and vapid; mundane and irresponsible; unconcerned by absence of a meaningful life and freighted by abstract concerns about the future. The harbingers of the new wave of Japanese literature in English translation were the novels of Yukio Mishima and Kobo Abe. Both were avant garde writers in that their styles were "modernist" in that they broke with many traditional Japanese cultural taboos. Mishima, for example, dealt with such incendiary topics as homosexuality and the facades that societal outsiders must hide behind to outwardly conform to accepted standards. Abe dealt with the problems of the individual in modern society, but tended more toward the surrealist approach (e.g. "Woman in the Dunes"). A still newer Japanese style has lately approached some of these same themes but in an entirely different manner; I'll call it the "poetry of despair", even though its practitioners write in stark and stripped-down prose and their style is devoid of all but the requisite words required to convey the story. Two notable authors in this class are Natsuo Kirino ("Out" and others) and Shuichi Yoshida, whose book, "Villain" was just translated. To read these books is to appreciate the direction in which serious novels based on mystery and detection but dealing with deeper themes are headed.
In "Villain", a murder occurs. The reason for the crime and the probable perpetrator are not much of a mystery. The grim surroundings, the directionless characters, the hyper-realist style considerably narrow the reader's focus. The attraction of this book (and Kirino's works) lies in the writer's skill: not in the complexity or "uniqueness" of the puzzle or the bizarre affectations of the protagonist. On any random page of "Villain" some beautifully constructed by magnificently understated sentence demands contemplation. One can almost literally savor the masterful ability of Yoshida to convey much by writing very, very little. For example, there is the recurring setting of the Mitsuse Pass Tunnel Highway where Yoshino, an intellectually and morally vacant door-to-door insurance salesman and part-time prostitute (although she wouldn't consider herself that) is found murdered. How to set the scene? A hallucinatory and surrealistic paranormal vignette related by a minor character. Local legend. Inclement weather. Remoteness. The approach: "Occasional streetlights lit up the red mailboxes and neighborhood notice boards along the dark street. The road started to rise and Yuichi followed the headlights as they palely illuminated the pavement. It looked as if a clump of light were ascending the narrow mountain road." The town is described thusly, "Fusae turned off the light in the bedroon, sat up in her futon, and, without making a sound, crawled over toward the window. With a trembling hand she parted the curtain a bit. Outside the window was a cinder-block wall with a few blocks missing, and through the holes she could see the narrow road in front. The patrol car that has been outside was gone now. Instead, a black care was parked there, and in the light from inside the car she could see a young plainclothes detective talking on a cell phone."
Yoshida has been published to great acclaim in Japan but, as far as I know, this is the first of his books to be translated into English. I would be quite remiss in failing to mention the brilliant translation by Philip Gabriel, who has done such a fine job that the fact that it was originally written in another language will be totally overlooked.
In summary, this is a superior novel. It uses a mundane device, a murder/detection mystery, to illustrate larger truths and greater insights. In short, it enters the realm of enduring literature, depicting as it does the anomie and desolation of the post-industrial wasteland masses. It picks up where Raymond Chandler's short stories leave off. It is "Desolation Row" set in modern-day Japan; nothing to hope for and nothing to gain.
The story concerns the killing of a young inurance saleswoman along an isolated mountain road, and the people affected by her murder. Moving back and forth in time, we meet the victim and her workmates on the night of the killing, two men she had been involved with and their friends, her parents, the grandparents of a another character, and a few others. The cast of construction workers, insurance saleswomen, store assistants, barbers, and poor retirees is almost a neorealist slice of modern Japan, showing the decided unglamorous side of the country. Through their eyes and voices, the book shifts between the past and present, slowly building a complete picture of victim and perpetrator.
The author is not really concerned with the question of whodunnit, so much as whydunnit. There's only the merest nod to genre convention in terms of keeping the reader guessing as to who the killer is. The book is about the psychology behind the murder and conflence of influences that led to the act. One thing that's kind of nice about it is that it avoids both the familiar big city setting, as well as the really rural areas, instead finding a place of desperation among the medium towns, small cities, highways, and shabby love hotels of sourthernmost Japan. Desperation is probably the key to the novel, as so many of the characters are trying to escape the mundane routines they are stuck in, while the larger society sits ready to judge each and every one of them. It doesn't really work as a traditional crime novel, but as a portrait of modern Japan its well worth reading.
Note: The cover has a really arresting design, but it's kind of an odd and misleading one, since there's no sign or mention of a gun in the story, nor are any bones involved in any way. Doesn't really capture the tone of the story at all.
The pair had dated a few times but the motive remains as elusive as the ghosts that allegedly haunt this region of Japan. The cops learn that the victim had numerous online boyfriends and went on mundane and cyber dates; as Ishibashi hated her boring job. Meanwhile Shimizu also detested his cramped lifestyle as he cared for his ailing grandparents; his escapism from ennui was with his extravagant car. Meanwhile as he and his girlfriend evade the police, the impact of the murder reverberates on three families and the communities where they reside.
Using a horrific homicide, Shuichi Yoshida provides a powerful look at modern day Japan through multiple perspectives. The discerning story line rotates effortlessly between the past of lead pair (killer and victim) and the aftermath of the killing on the couple on the run and the families. Readers will relish this tense thriller as murder is the mechanism used to enable the audience to feel they are on the islands observing contemporary Japanese culture.
Another reviewer mentioned that this is more of a "whydunnit" than "whodunnit" -- that's quite typical of Japanese crime novels, though actually this one sustained some mystery (for me, anyway) longer than most. I found many of the characters recognizable from the people I see around me daily. It's true that some of the minor characters don't "go" anywhere; the author may have been interested in just attempting a brief pen-portrait of certain types. But in several others (such as the protagonist's grandmother), there is unambiguous growth by the end of the book, albeit not necessarily directly connected with the main plot. In some of the major characters, the nature of the character development is more ambiguous, but intentionally so -- that's part of the skill in the novel. The social commentary isn't all bleak, either. Several characters have strong networks of family and friends, who don't let them down. And some of the more pointed commentary, as when the victim's father scolds a college student for not having anyone whose happiness is important to him, is apt and well-put. The comparison to Stieg Larsson is pure marketing fluff: this is far less sensational in its plot, but considerably more substantial in its observations about people and society. If you don't mind reflecting a little bit about a crime novel instead of flying through it, this is a solid choice.