By: Ryu Murakami
Translated by: Ralph McCarthy
Published: December 1997 (translated January 5, 2009)
The Rundown: “Documentary-maker Aoyama hasn’t dated anyone in the seven years since the death of his beloved wife, Ryoko. Now even his teenage son Shige has suggested he think about remarrying. So when his best friend Yoshikawa comes up with a plan to hold fake film auditions so that Aoyama can choose a new bride, he decides to go along with the idea. Of the thousands who apply, Aoyama only has eyes for Yamasaki Asami, a young, beautiful, delicate and talented ballerina with a turbulent past. But there is more to her than Aoyama, blinded by his infatuation, can see, and by the time he discovers the terrifying truth it may be too late.”
Don’t Get Strung Out by the Way I Look: In the center of the cover is a woman’s eye, carefully done up with eyeliner and mascara. The image of the eye is encircled in splattered red paint. The book is about a lady psycho. It’s exactly what’s advertised on the cover.
What a Wonderful World: Aoyama, though by no means a star, commands a position of some power in the entertainment industry. He uses this power to search for a younger woman to serve as his wife, setting up an audition for a film which nobody intends to make. Aoyama doesn’t consider his actions to be predatory, as his endgame is marriage. Much of the novel is a criticism of the entertainment industry and how it serves as a tool for creepy men to exploit young women.
The Good Guy: More like the “good” guy, am I right? Aoyama is a creep. Before his first wife, Ryoko, passed away from a viral cancer, Aoyama constantly cheated on her. He did not realize how much she loved her until she was dead. Too his credit, Aoyama buckled down and did his best to build a relationship with his son, Shige. Now that Shige is almost grown, however, he’s looking for a new wife. When he decides upon Asami—who is half his age—he misleads her about his financial state, only taking her to fancy restaurants. He’s not lying, he tells himself; he just wants her to have a good time. He’s doing it for love.
The Guy in the Good Guy’s Bed: Asami is every man’s dream: beautiful, fashionable, and demure. She used to be a talented ballerina, but was forced to retire when she injured her hip. The death of her dream is what attracts Aoyama, as he thinks this will help her understand the death of Ryoko. Asami has a tragic past: she was severely abused by her wheelchair-bound stepfather. She claims that her love of ballet helped her recover emotionally, but come on. As anyone who’s watched Black Swan knows, ballet will only make you crazier.
Cold Noodles and Hot Sake: The novel did a good job of making Aoyama seem like a normal dude. He walks his dog, eats dinner in front of the TV with his son, and dreams of romance. Aoyama’s normalcy makes his creepy, entitled attitude toward women more chilling. It’s easy enough to dismiss male entitlement when the man in question is a weirdo. It’s much more difficult when he’s a normal person, because it suggests that that type of attitude is common.
Forced Amputations: The novel ends too abruptly. As you read, there’s the sense that the story is building to something really horrible. When what’s going to happen happens, it’s barely described and over far too quickly. If you’re going to write torture porn, write torture porn. This is just… disappointing.
Does it Represent…
Women: This book is really good at dissecting men’s entitled attitudes towards women. The best demonstration of this is Aoyama’s behavior to a reclusive German composer. After Ryoko’s death, Aoyama decides that he wants to get the composer to give a concert in Japan. He constantly writes letters to her, even going so far as to stay for a short period in the small town in which she lives. Finally, after years of pestering, the composer consents to give a small concert. Aoyama is thrilled, though she clearly just gave him what he wanted to get him to leave her alone. Rape metaphor!
People of Color: This book was written in Japanese. All the named characters are Japanese. It’s set in Japan.
LGBT People: No.
The Disabled: Asami’s abusive stepfather was confined to a wheelchair. I guess he satisfies the “evil disabled person” trope. Asami is clearly suffering from some sort of PTSD from his abuse, which turns her ax-crazy. She’s also an “evil disabled person.” This book isn’t great in terms of its disability representation.
Does the Dog Survive? HAHAHAHAHA no.
Memorable Quote: “People were infected with the concept that happiness was something outside themselves, and a new and powerful form of loneliness was born. Mix loneliness with stress and enervation, and all sorts of madness can occur. Anxiety increases, and in order to obliterate the anxiety, people turn to extreme sex, violence, and even murder.”
Recommended for: To be perfectly honest, this is a situation where the movie is the superior version. If you want to experience great Japanese horror, rent that instead of reading the book.
My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars