In The Miso Soup

Ryo Murakami’s novel is yet further proof, if any were needed, of the extraordinary, vibrant nature of contemporary Japanese fiction – or at least that which has found its way into translation. And the translator has done a great job here – the prose flows beautifully.

Murakami is one of a number of young Japanese novelists who paint a picture of a youthful Japan that is consumer-crazed, drug-addicted, sexually explicit, violent and nihilistic, whilst at the same time portraying the vulnerability of its young heroes and how they have been let down by post-war Japanese society. It very much had the same feel as Hitomi Kanehara’s Snakes and Earrings and Mari Akasaka’s Vibrator, both of which I read last year.

In the Miso Soup is a short novel (about 180 pages) of extraordinary power, telling the story, over 3 days, of Kenji who works as a freelance escort and guide for Western sex tourists, and Frank, an American and client of Kenji’s. As the story progresses Kenji becomes mesmerised by Frank and his bizarre and manipulative behaviour and increasingly suspicious that Frank may be a serial killer. But Kenji is unable to tear himself away from Frank, in spite of his increasing desperation, and is bound to him until the story has played itself out.

Much of the narrative is driven by suspense and the first half of the novel has a very strong cinematic quality which keeps the story flowing. Then comes the turning point of the novel. Up until now, the atmosphere has been seedy but any threat has been implied and any danger lurking in the shadows. But then comes a scene of the most unbelievably graphic violence. After that the narrative noticeably slows down and acquires a more measured and philosophical tone, until it finally (but satisfyingly) peters out. I’m sorry if I haven’t explained that very well, but if you read it for yourself, you’ll see exactly what I mean. It won’t take you long – it’s not a page-turner in the thriller sense of the word, but you’ll want to kep on reading and it’s the sort of book that deserves to be read in a single sitting, without interruptions.

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