Tuesday, September 1, 2015

BOOKSHELF: SHUICHI YOSHIDA'S "VILLAIN"


Shuichi Yoshida's Villain is the fifth Japanese thriller on my themed summer reading list, and I am no closer to experiencing the wow factor I so longed to discover. Another well-written novel, it suffers, first and foremost, from ofttimes reading like a transportation manual. There is a level of proficiency required for a reader to feel comfortable in the setting, but, at some point, excessive details serve to take us out of the story. Villain's most pertinent action takes place at Mitsuse Pass and, aside from an eerie park and a coveted lighthouse that reappear in the narrative, Yoshida's pedantic mapping of every road, sidewalk, and alley does a disservice to his work.

More importantly, is Villain a genuine thriller or another marketing misrepresentation? Initially, we are meant to be concerned about the murder of Yoshino, a young woman killed at Mitsuse Pass. There are only two suspects, young men Yuichi and Keigo, wildly different from one another in looks, character, and social standing, and Yoshida keeps that pendulum swinging well into the third act. It's a cheap tease, because the perpetrator is obvious from the start, and the constant attempt to infuse doubt only reinforces that fact. Almost immediately, the thriller morphs into a character study, with appearances by so many new people, the identity of the lead protagonist becomes entirely unclear. There are parents, grandparents, uncles, sisters, best friends, co-workers, past lovers, and many more folks who muse about the difficulty, darkness, and loneliness of life and, if we are lucky, tie it back to one of the main characters.

Aside from keeping track of the ever-mounting pyramid of secondary personages, the reader is tasked with slipping in and out of first person narration. I'd think it a valuable tool of manipulation had it been limited to a specific string of characters, say the possible killers, or the victim herself, but there seems to be no rhyme or reason for shifts between third and first person POV, and the tactic becomes a nuisance awful fast. What I do give Yoshida credit for, is making the murder victim out to be so utterly unsympathetic and shifting reader alliances, even if the rest of the characters remain too distant for us to forge a connection. In short, no one is likable, nobody wins, and the most intriguing aspects of the novel become its inquisitive chapter headings:

1. WHO DID SHE WANT TO SEE?
2. WHO DID HE WANT TO SEE?
3. WHO DID SHE HAPPEN TO MEET?
4.WHO DID HE HAPPEN TO MEET?
5. THE VILLAIN I MET

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