At face value Ryu Murakami’s Piercing is at least as shocking throughout as the infamous scene in In the Miso Soup. Kawashima Masayuki has a respectable, well-regarded career in advertising and is married to a beautiful wife and has a new baby daughter, both of whom he adores. Yet Kawashima suffers from night terrors and is overcome by the fear that he may lose control and give in to an overwhelming urge to kill his daughter with an ice pick. The root of his psychological problems lies in his history as a child abused at the hands of his mother and, although he now leads a life he could hardly have dreamed of previously, he is still haunted by his past.

Kawashima decides that the only way to purge himself of this desire is to kill somebody else and so he devises a plan to murder a prostitute and goes to great lengths to cover his tracks. In doing so he comes into contact with the rather murky world of the Tokyo sex industry, territory that will be familiar to those who have read In the Miso Soup (and, indeed, much other contemporary Japanese fiction). What follows is, on the one hand, a fast-paced thriller as the story moves towards its inevitable violent climax, and yet at the same time this is a very funny novel (of course, the dividing line between horror and comedy is a thin one). From the very beginning every aspect of Kawashima’s meticulous planning goes awry and the whole thing descends into high farce, driven by the respectable and anxious Kawashima’s engagement with the underbelly of Tokyo society and his  inability to operate in a world of violence and sleaze.

In this book Murakami seems more relaxed and in control as a writer. In the Miso Soup is a powerful novel to be sure, but Piercing seems more masterly to me, as he successfully walks that tightrope between the two genres, dipping his toe into each and, seemingly, relishing in his teasing of his readers.


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