Monday, June 3, 2013

Strawberry Jam

「クラーク博士は北海道大学の学生に『紳士たれ』という言葉を残したというけれど、ぼくと小佐内さん も似た信条を持っている。「紳士」によく似ているけれど、それよりはもうちょっと社会的階級が低い。『小市民たれ』。これ。日々の平穏と安定のため、ぼくと小佐内さんは断固とした小市民なのだ。もっとも、その表れ方はちょっと違う。小佐内さんは隠れる。ぼくは、笑って誤魔化す」
『 春限定いちごタルト事件』

"Professor Clark had told the students of Hokkaido University to 'be a gentleman'. Osanai and I had a similar principle. Similiar to "be a gentleman", but ranked a bit lower in society. 'Be a petit bourgeois'. That was it. We decided firmly to be petit bourgeois, for the sake of tranquility and stability. But we executed our beliefs differently. Osanai, she hides herself. And I, I laugh and pretend"
"The Spring Special Strawberry Tart Case"

One thing I'm definitely not missing about Kyoto: the tsuyu rain and the unbelievable heat!

I usually read several books at the same time and that means books sometimes takes ages to be finished: one of these was Yonezawa Honobu's short story collection Shunki Gentei Ichigo Tart Jiken ("The Spring Special Strawberry Tart Case"). Introducing Kobato Jougorou and Osanai Yuki. He is an ordinary boy with a fairly good set of brains. She is a small small girl with a love for sweet things. They are both first year students at Funato High School. And they try to live their lives in the same way: as what they call the petite bourgeois. Just go with the flow of society. Don't stand out. Don't go looking for trouble. Be one of the many. Just one of the many, yet crucial cogs of the machine that is society. These two, neither lovers nor dependent on each other, just try to be what they believe is the best way a person can live. Their classmate, Doujima Kengo however, always seems to get Jougorou (and to a lesser extent, Osanai) in trouble. Not because Kengo is a bad person: in fact, Kengo is usually a good enough a person to want to help others. But helping people, getting involved with other people's problems is another way of standing out. And so our petite bourgeois-aspiring duo contineously have to decide whether to do the good thing, as a contributing member of society should do, or try to ignore trouble, as a contributing member of society should do.

Shunki Gentei Ichigo Tart Jiken is, like Kanou Tomoko's Nanatsu no Ko, an 'everyday life mystery'. No bloody murders, no mysterious locked rooms. Just little mysteries that you and I might encounter, or might have really have encountered in our daily lives. A stolen bike. A purse gone missing. Like I mentioned in my review of Nanatsu no Ko, I am not really a fan of this subgenre. I'd rather have the bloody murder and the mysterious locked room. Not that a everyday life mystery is always bad though. And I think that Shunki Gentei Ichigo Tart Jiken is one of the books that can prove this case.

For while the scale of the mystery might seem a bit small, one shouldn't underestimate the scale of the deductions Jougorou makes about these everyday life mysteries. The best story in the collection is Oishii Cocoa no Tsukurikata ("How to Make Delicious Chocolate Milk"), where Jougorou and Osanai try to figure out how Kengo managed to make delicious chocolate milk with a limited amount of cups. Yes, this intellectual problem might sound very, very uninteresting, but the way the duo think about all the possibilities and shoot down each other's suggestions is what you'd expect in a Queen-style novel, not 'just' an everyday life mystery. But it works wonderfully here and the solution is in the same light-hearted, yet satisfying style.

The short stories collected in Shunki Gentei Ichigo Tart Jiken are written to form one, bigger story, with hints and events happening in earlier stories all coming together in the final story. Osanai's bike is stolen rather early in the collection (together with the last Spring Special Strawberry Tarts available that year she had left on her bike), which is rather troublesome because a petit bourgeois can't go around getting involved with the police (even if it wasn't her fault). But the way Yonezawa placed the hints in the earlier stories is excellent and the deductive chain shown here is quite impressive, especially I hadn't seen such the deductive reasoning approach used in a connected short story collection before (like Mari Yukiko's Futarigurui for example).

Shunki Gentei Ichigo Tart Jiken is a really sweet short story collection. Half daily life mystery, half youth comedy and it works. In a way, this book is like the opposite of Otsuichi's GOTH, both featuring high school students with a particular look at life. This one is more happier and sweeter and cozier, but that really doesn't have to be a bad thing.

Original Japanese title(s): 米澤穂信 『春期限定いちごタルト事件』

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