One more check mark on my summer reading list and a much better entry in the chosen thematic bracket of the Japanese thriller, Confessions is a finely crafted novel with unconventional presentation. Another first person endeavor, told from the point of view of 5 different people in 6 chapters, this is a surprisingly engaging format of storytelling. The first chapter begins with Mrs. Moriguchi, a middle school teacher, announcing her retirement to her class. Her farewell speech quickly takes a sinister turn as she reminisces about life and the recent death of her 4-year-old daughter, who drowned in a pool on school grounds. Ruled an accident by the police, Mrs. Moriguchi offers her own version of events and accuses two classroom students of murder. She labels them A & B without exposing their names, but gives plenty of clues to their identity, and soon the students figure out the perpetrators. Her verdict and ensuing punishment are severe, and you will never look at a milk carton the same way again. She returns in chapter 6, as the story line comes full circle, this time via a telephone conversation with one of the accused.
Mrs. Moriguchi's are the only monologues addressed out loud to specific people. The rest can be interpreted as internal, but Minato's approach does not get stale. Chapter 2, for example, is written in the form of a published letter in a magazine from a female student and sympathizer of perpetrator A. Chapter 3 is written in the form of diary entries from the sister and mother of perpetrator B. Each section signals a major shift in perspective, and the murder plays out several times to determine everyone’s motives, but this is where Minato's writing trips. While she finds new ways to present the monologues, the rehashing of the crime, stylistically speaking, seems lifted from one chapter to the next and is not colored by the otherwise distinctive voices of each character. Those voices are further shaped for the reader with Minato's guiding chapter titles - The Saint, The Martyr, The Benevolent One, and so on.
My own confession is that I watched the Japanese film adaptation before reading the source material. It was one of the strangest works, both in content and structure that I ever saw, and Japan is not short on this kind of entertainment. The film is a great supplement to Minato's novel, because it makes whole with a visual aesthetic what little is missing from the written word. The repetitiveness of the crime is showcased much better on film and loses its written redundancy. The classroom itself becomes an atmospheric prison, where we see the reactions of others to the monologues that are deliberately filtered out of the book. I guess what I am getting at is that the film allows more freedom of perception, while the book confines you to the minds of people you don't necessarily want to prod. As always, the novel pits (the absence of) traditional values against their modern counterparts, only to discover that they haven't taken hold, and all society is left with is an ever-expanding moral vacuum.