#BlogTour- Riku Onda- Fish Swimming In Dappled Sunlight (tr. Alison Watts)- #RikuOnda @sashikolady @bitterlemonpub

Set in Tokyo over the course of one night, Aki and Hiro have decided to be together one last time in their shared flat before parting. Their relationship has broken down after a mountain trek during which their guide died inexplicably. Now each believes the other to be a murderer and is determined to extract a confession before the night is over. Who is the murderer and what really happened on the mountain? 

My first introduction to Riku Onda was The Aosawa Murders , a book I greatly enjoyed and have recommended ever since reading. Consequently I was very much looking forward to encountering this writer again, and I would like to congratulate her, not only on the beautiful choice of title, Fish Swimming In Dappled Sunlight, but also by testing my reviewing mettle by writing a book that is practically impossible to review without spoilers. I will endeavour to reveal as little as possible about the plot turns…

Set over the course of one night and building an atmosphere of suffocating and claustrophobic tension, the book alternates for the most part between the two characters’ viewpoints, Aki and Hiro. From the very outset, this narrative structure draws the reader in, and plays with our sensibilities throughout, sucking us in wholeheartedly into the underlying tension between the two characters on the cusp of breaking from each other. As the book centres so closely on the relationship between the two, Onda does not make it easy for us to unpick what relationship they have to each other, causing us to speculate from the beginning whether their tie to each other is of familial kind or as lovers- a theme of the book that gets ever more tangled as it progresses.

The book is very much framed as a play, with this intense dialogue, gaps in understanding between the two, and a significant event in both their lives casting a heavy shadow and feelings of recrimination over the whole affair. We bear witness to a violent episode both through their recollections of the event and the filmic quality that Onda casts over it, seen through flashbacks by each character as they re-assimilate and analyse their contrasting roles in the death of a man guiding them on a mountain trek. Again, Onda exhibits her prowess as a writer, depicting the openness and atmosphere of natural environment of the trek with a vivid and deft touch, but reigning it all in when describing the small minutiae of the claustrophobic apartment, with both locations as effective as one another.

As the psychological intensity and gameplaying between Aki and Hiro intensifies, grim truths are revealed as the past when deconstructed in the present, completely redefines their relationship to each other, and the truth of the mountain guides death comes to light in a tense denouement. A word here too about the excellent translation by Alison Watts, which ingrains the story with this taut, psychologically tense feel throughout, and builds in the reader a growing sense of dark unease as to how this evening of recrimination and revelation will play out.

Hopefully, I have not given anything away, as Fish Swimming In Dappled Sunlight is really one of those books you want to go into blind in readiness to be totally blindsided by the unfolding story. I loved the intensity of the relationship between the characters, swerving between thoughts of affection, mistrust, blame, and potentially violence on both their parts, and felt as suffocated by the tension between them as they do on this last fateful night together. Recommended.


Riku Onda born in 1964, is the professional name of Nanae Kumagai. She has been writing fiction since 1991 and has won the Yoshikawa Eiji Prize for New Writers, the Japan Booksellers’ Award, the Mystery Writers of Japan Award for Best Novel for The Aosawa Murders, the Yamamoto Shugoro Prize, and the Naoki Prize. Her work has been adapted for film and television. Alison Watts is an Australian-born Japanese to English translator and long time resident of Japan. She has published a translation of Aya Goda’s TAO: On the Road and On the Run In Outlaw China and of Sweet Bean Paste by Durian Sukegawa, released in October 2017.

(With thanks to Bitter Lemon Press for the ARC)

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  1. Now each believes the other to be a murderer

    That is a clever idea; neither would believe the other to be the murderer if they were guilty of it themselves.

    I’m quite intrigued

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