When Yuko Moriguchi’s four-year-old daughter died in the middle school where she teaches, everyone thought it was a tragic accident. It’s the last day of term, and Yuko’s last day at work. She tells her students that she has resigned because of what happened – but not for the reasons they think. Her daughter didn’t die in an accident. Her daughter was killed by two people in the class. And before she leaves, she has a lesson to teach. But revenge has a way of spinning out of control, and Yuko’s last lecture is only the start of the story. In this thriller of love, despair and murder, everyone has a confession to make, and no one will escape unharmed.
I will make my own confession straightaway and admit to not being that hugely read in the field of Japanese crime fiction. Little surprise then that this book has escaped my attention, despite there being a 2010 Oscar nominated film version, directed by Tetsuya Nakashima. The story hinges on the collusion in the murder of a female schoolteacher Yuko’s, young daughter by two of her male pupils and in her last lecture to her class there is to be an exposure of truth and a plan for revenge, that will unhinge and surprise both them and us as reader. The following story is then narrated by the various protagonists intimately involved with the crime. This shifting perspective of the same crime from the point of view of the bereaved mother and the guilty boys, in true confessional mode, provide an interesting counterbalance to one another in terms of the reasons for their actions both past and planned, and the keenness with which our sympathies as readers change as each ‘confession’ is brought to light. As the story unfolds, and with giving nothing away, the nature of these confessions will unsettle you, and make you think. You will probably read this in one sitting, as there is something completely mesmerising about its aura of darkness, that unfolds as each confession takes centre stage.
What emerges in this slim but utterly compelling read is a heartbreaking story of familial instability, provoked by the initial murder for mother Yuko, but then by extension how the differing aspects of motherhood are so utterly central to the actions of the two culpable boys. There is a wonderful quote from crime writer Alex Marwood, on the theme of Japanese adolescence in this novel, saying that the book bears comparison to Albert Camus writing Heathers, and she is spot on. There is the rhythmical prose, which carries you along throughout, where the minutiae of these people’s lives are described in the most insightful and beautiful way, despite the contrasting heartbreaking or cruel realities that surround their actions or involvement in the crime. Also, as an insight into the mind-set of these young confused boys, shaped by either the supportive or neglectful relationships within their own family units, the book provides a great deal of comment on how we are shaped by the relationships we have with those closest to us. It also provides a thoughtful meditation on the social mores and experiences of the boys involved within the larger sphere of Japanese life. The themes and issues that Minato addresses in such a compressed piece of writing like Confessions are truly thought-provoking and emotive, and like the best studies of the human psyche, I guarantee that this book will revisit your mind, long after you have finished reading. A short but entirely satisfying study of the psychology of murder and retribution, beautifully written, and haunting in its simplicity, and a cue for me to delve deeper into the world of Japanese crime fiction…
(With thanks to Mulholland Books for the ARC)