Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Murakami, Ryu: In the Miso Soup

Just before New Year's Eve, Kenji, a freelance nightlife guide, is hired by an overweight American called Frank. As he takes him from bar to bar, we learn that high school girls willingly prostitute themselves as do housewives and it becomes clear that something is the matter with Frank. He says he has had part of his brain removed which causes him to 'freeze' at times and Kenji agrees to a second night with him. The close atmosphere of the seedier parts of Tokyo's night life comes across as the night unfolds with its culmination in a shockingly violent scene, all the more shocking because of the calm, matter of fact way it is described. Kenji is afraid he, too, will be killed but is unable to leave Frank even when the opportunity presents itself and he spends the night in a disused building with him. He tells Frank why 108 bells are rung at the close of the year and Frank talks to him of his childhood including almost throwaway admissions of murder. The book ends with Kenji united with his girfriend as Frank disappears in the crowd assembled to hear the bells. There is a flat unemotional feel to the book even though it deals with Kenji's reactions to what he thinks about Frank and then to what he witnesses. Both with the main characters and those they meet directly there is an air of isolation from the normal world with the sadness of those in the sex industry noticeably present. Not to be confused with the better known Haruki Murakami, this author takes the less savoury aspects of life as his field.

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