Thursday, September 17, 2015

The Angel Wakes

「君の思い描いた夢 集メルHEAVEN」 (Garnet Crow)

If I can slide into your heart
I'll take away your sad memories
So you can make your way without any hesitation
To the place you dream off
"The Heaven That Gathers The Dreams You Imagine" (Garnet Crow)

I've been holding up writing this review for almost a month! And even now I have trouble writing my thoughts down. Anyway, once again a good lesson I should occasionally learn a little about the books I'm going to read.

A whole new life starts for Sakamoto Yuuko, when she finally enters the Junwa Girl Academy, a prestigeous convent-style boarding school. The absolute queen of her new environment is Asakura Maria, a third-year student who is the head of the student council and the idol for basically all at the school. Yuuko too becomes entranced by Maria, and is thus the more schocked when one day, Maria is found dead in her room. She appeared to have been pregnant and had a miscarriage, the blood loss causing her death, but for some reason the fetus was not found in her room. Meanwhile, Maria's parents hire private detective Rindou "Black Cat" Mineko to investigate Maria's death: Maria's big sister, Yuria, had actually died under the same circumstances, including the missing baby. Both Mineko and Yuuko discover that someone or someone called "Jack" is involved with what happened to Maria and some other mysterious events at the academy and the search for Jack is the main catalyst for the plot of Inui Kurumi's J no Shinwa ("The Myth of J"), also carrying the English title J-Girls Mystery.

Inui Kurumi debuted as a writer with J no Shinwa in 1998, having won the fourth Mephisto Prize with the novel. And as always with the Mephisto Prize, opinions on the book are quite varied (for more about the Mephisto Prize, see this review). The winners are usually mystery novels in a very broad sense of the word, some "normal" detective novels, while others lean more towards horror/entertainment. Of the few Mephisto Prize winning books I've read, J no Shinwa is definitely the first one where I really hesitate calling it a detective novel.

The story starts out as a detective story with an okay, be it a bit predictable horror vibe: an all-girls school with mysterious meetings in the night, the nuns walking around, the mystery of "Jack" and all. And Mineko starts off with a fairly normal investigation in the deaths of Maria and Yuria and the disappearances of the fetuses. J no Shinwa is an okay, but not particularly inspiring read in this first quarter of the book.

But then the book very quickly moves to the horror and science-fiction side of things. The solution to the deaths of Maria and Yuria is basically science-fiction, and sadly enough, not in a good way. Science-fiction can work perfectly well with the detective novel, like Asimov proved. But J no Shinwa gives the reader something close to "aliens did it and that explains everything". It is not in the least satisfying. The same goes for the horror aspect. Gothic horror has always been best of friends with the detective novel, but when it goes into Resident Evil-territories, you need to be at your A-game if you want to preserve a good balance between the logic of a detective novel and the insanity of a horror novel. It doesn't work here. The detective plot gets crushed between the horror and the science-fiction. And to finish things off, there's a good dash of the erotic novel to be found in J no Shinwa too.

I know a lot of people describe Inui Kurumi's novels as making them feel uncomfortable (kimochi warui as the Japanese would say) and indeed, the other Inui Kurumi book I read, Shitto Jiken, turned into something unexpectedly dark at the end, leaving a bad aftertaste. In a good sense of the word: a lingering taste of despair obtained from a piece of mass entertainment. I guess that one could say the same for J no Shinwa, but it's a bit more extreme here and I myself did not enjoy it very much.

In short, J no Shinwa is more a horror novel than a detective novel, and read as such, it's okay I guess, though Inui is doing his best at making you feel uncomfortable reading the book. Which I guess is the idea of horror. I myself didn't really like the book, but that's perhaps because I had expected a traditional detective novel from it. Go in with the right expectactions, and J no Shinwa might well be an enjoyable horror novel.

Original Japanese title(s): 乾くるみ 『Jの神話』

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