by Molly Collins (@mollyec)
School sucks. Most of us can agree on that point, regardless of our background. But does it suck enough that we’d turn to a life of crime? Does it suck so much that we’d commit murder and send our classmates through a dizzying series of tragic events?
BEHIND THE PEN
Kanae Minato is a former home economics teacher who has now penned twenty crime and thriller novels in her homeland of Japan. Two of her novels have been translated into English: Penance and Confessions, which she wrote between household chores.
Dr. Stephen Snyder is a Japanese translator and professor of Japanese Studies at Middlebury College in Vermont. He has translated a wide range of novels, including HOWLS reads Revenge by Yoko Ogawa and Confessions.
Confessions was published in Japan in 2008, and was Minato’s debut novel. It was adapted into a film in 2010, and translated into English in 2014.
A NO-SPOILER SUMMARY
It’s the last day of school before the holidays and Yuko Moriguchi has a final lecture for her students. A few weeks previously, her four-year-old daughter was found dead in the school swimming pool, and Moriguchi informs her students that she is resigning in part due to the incident. Everyone thought it was an accident, but Moriguchi tells her class the truth: her daughter was murdered by two students in their class, and the mother will have her revenge.
Thus begins a rollercoaster of twists and turns. That spring afternoon will have long-reaching effects on the class and everyone associated with the killers.
VOICES FROM WITHIN
The prose in Confessions was dry and matter-of-fact, and was the first matter of discussion amongst HOWLers. Many found that the dialogue was forced or didn’t flow well, but the plot pushed many readers forward—several barreled ahead and read the entire novel rather than in three parts as the discussion schedule dictates.
Even in the first two chapters, there were a lot of horrifying elements to deal with. Still, the word many HOWLers found themselves using was “delightful”: @Mantis Shrimp said, “To realize this book is going to be a slowly unfolding puzzle with twists and turns… I’m delighted.” @Golfwang agreed and said, “Despite the grim subject matter, I’ve had a big grin on my face the whole time reading and watching the mystery unfold.” We chatted a lot about bullying, and how many Japanese schools have a group bullying dynamic where the entire class turns against one student.
A handful of HOWLers read The Japanese High School: Silence and Resistance by Shoko Yoneyama alongside Confessions, and found the nonfiction book to be an insightful complement to the fictional. @SemaphoreRaven called the nonfiction book “required reading for a non-Japanese audience to see just how fucked up the school system and everyone trapped in it is,” and HOWLers reading both talked about how students confessed to having thoughts of killing their teachers or classmates, and how often violence is inflicted on students by teachers. In short, Moriguchi’s students having violent inclinations isn’t exactly out of the norm!
Moving on to the second reading section, HOWLS members continued to enjoy the winding tale. Although we found this section a little redundant, as more narrators filled in their version of events, HOWLers found themselves sucked further into the narrative. There was little to do but follow our characters to the next section, as the pressure cooker they were in moved ever closer to an explosion.
The twist at the end of the book was mind-blowing, and HOWLS members responded with gusto. In the end, this was a very violent book, which is almost easy to overlook when one reads it as pure entertainment. As we dived into the ending, we talked a lot about the evils perpetuated by the characters, and about culpability. What characters carry the most blame? Which are the most “evil”? Can one assign culpability to a child? How does our upbringing affect our moral choices? And as readers, how can we assess the entertainment value of fiction when we would be sickened by the same events in the real world? I cannot claim that we came to definitive answers, but the discussion provided plenty of food for thought.
WELCOME TO THE BLURBS: HOWL SOCIETY MEMBERS’ REVIEWS IN THEIR OWN WORDS
- A delightfully twisted soap opera of a novel. A little far fetched at times but damn it if I wasn’t entertained from start to finish.
- A fantastic little tale of mysterious revenge, this book is one you won’t want to put down!
- For a book about murdered children and child murderers, this was a fun read and kept me guessing at every turn!
- A skillfully built piece with each chapter revealing a new perspective on events that lead to a delightfully twisted climax.
- My fellow plot junkies, look no further. Grab a bag of popcorn and pull up a comfy chair. You can burn through this thrill-ride before the kernels cool down.
- It seems we’re on a roll of books with unlikable characters at HOWLS! Unlikable, in this case, does not equal uninteresting. Though the same events tend to come up in subsequent chapters, the changing of POV and slow reveal of details keeps things fresh and exciting!
- Building dread as stories are told from different perspectives, and lots of shockers along the way. An engaging deep dive into the pressures of the Japanese school system and the question of responsibility when pre-teens commit violent acts.
- Pitch-black satire of youth violence in Japan? Check.
Rashomon-meets-nesting-doll style storytelling? Check.
Worth your time? Double check.
- This was just a delight. Confessions tells its story from multiple perspectives, and uses those perspectives to explore conflicting versions of the truth. The characters were both fascinating and horrifying.
- I finished the first chapter thinking things couldn’t possibly escalate any further. I was wrong.
- It’s hard to talk about this book without risking spoilers. Suffice to say that it has a tight narrative which introduces revelation upon revelation as you go along. It’s a dark story, but has one of the most satisfying conclusions that I’ve ever read.
- A Rashomon style tale about the pressure cooker that is the Japanese school system. What’s not to love?
Confessions is thrilling, delightful, and even humorous at times, but it is also a window into very real problems in the Japanese school system. It is not only entertainment, it is a critique. Readers in the mood for a quick-paced thriller will enjoy this, but readers on the hunt for a little more substance will also enjoy themselves.