Review for “Last Winter, We Parted” by Fuminori Nakamura (2014)
Rating: 2 out of 5 stars
I love Japanese fiction–it’s dark, mysterious, poetic. It takes risks, it terrifies, it ponders the universe. It pushes you out of your comfort zone of comfortable characters and predictable plots. I try to read a diverse selection of literature, but I do admit I have a soft spot for Japanese writers.
Unfortunately, I didn’t like this book. The plot is alright enough: a writer goes to interview a convicted killer, a renowned photographer named Kiharazaka who is on death row for the murder of two women by setting them ablaze. His investigation leads him to a doll maker who makes life sized dolls (weird), to an underground group of life sized doll lovers (weirder), and eventually into a sexual relationship with the condemned man’s sister (the weirdest). He tries to back out of the project, but he is so obsessed by the photographer’s story that he can’t wrench himself free. There is a twist at the end that I won’t give away–other than to say that it’s kookier than a David Lynch movie, and I’ve watched a lot of those.
Even though the writer was obsessed with Kiharazaka’s story, I wasn’t. There is nothing in this book to engage you, the writing is bland and lacks variety. If I had a stiff drink for every time the author writes that the main character has to “light a cigarette,” “smile,” or “look concerned” I’d be more than three sheets to the wind by page 25. The characters move about the story as lifeless, one dimensional beings. There is an attempt by the author to create a back story, but it’s nothing short of dull and just plain confusing. The structure of this novel also presents a problem, because it mixes the protagonist’s first person narration with Kiharazaka’s narration, as well as related documents and diaries from other characters. It was damn near impossible for me to figure out who was saying what.
The only reason I didn’t give this book one star is because I recognize that this book was translated from Japanese. This is often the problem with foreign novels, some styles and nuances of the story are simply not going to be carried over and understood, no matter how sincere the translator’s intention. I understand the author’s main point behind this book, but the poor execution here can’t be ignored. Would not read again.