Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC
Published: February 2006 (new edition)
Source: Personal Library
Translated by: Ralph McCarthy
At first glance of the cover, In The Miso Soup gave me the impression of a fiction about the Japanese culture but I knew there is something more than meets the eye with that cartoony image of a bowl of miso soup that looks like blood and reading the blurb confirmed my initial speculations of the book.
The story opens with the narrator introducing himself as a sex tour guide for foreigners and that he has no qualms about his job. However this does not mean that twenty-year-old Kenji is an insensitive and a selfish person; he does take pride in his job and he treasures his relationship with his sixteen-year-old girlfriend Jun.
Just before New Year's Day, he receives a telephone call from an American named Frank. Frank wants Kenji to take him on a guided tour of Tokyo's sleazy nightlife for three nights and the money is too good for Kenji to pass up despite he has promised to spend the time with Jun.
When he meets up with Frank, the latter gives him the impression that something isn't quite right from his behaviour and on top of that, the things he said earlier doesn't seem to match when they have the same conversation the next time. With the recent case of a high school girl being hacked and the murderer is still at large, Kenji suddenly has this terrible thought that Frank might be the murderer.
In The Miso Soup is a highly intense psychological thriller I have ever read in a long time. I would compare my reading experience of this book to riding a roller coaster; the story seems to be moving at a moderate pace right from the beginning with the introduction of Kenji and then moving on to Frank's. The pace quickened towards the middle of the book and I have to say I'd never forget one terribly shocking scene when the author described in details how a few victims were gruesomely cut and left to die. If this story is to be told on the big screen I don't think I'd be able to watch it. I personally think that that scene is the climax of the story and that once I get past that, everything seems to be falling into place, literally.
But what I find so intriguing about this book is not the plot but the message behind it as it touches on subjects like moral corruption, lack of identity and then the loneliness one feels without the love and support of a family. Each of this issue poses a problem on its own but add them all up together and may become a psychological issue. Another subject that is thought-provoking is the "compensated dating" among Japanese high school girls. I can't judge them all, but what they do and the difficulties they encounter really makes me sad.
In the Miso Soup is not an easy read for me subject-wise but one that would definitely leave a deep impression on me given the author's straight-to-the-point writing style and one particularly gruesome scene.
Now that we are on the topic of Japanese literary, I'd like to bring your attention to the Japanese Literature Challenge 5 hosted by the lovely Dolce Bellezza. The requirement is to read one book from June 1, 2011 until January 30, 2012 but of course it'd be wonderful if you want to read more than one book.
I'm definitely joining and the book I'm most likely to read will be The Lake by Banana Yoshimoto. I hope you'd join in the fun too!