Thursday, 19 June 2014

Magic Flight

KANOU Tomoko (加納朋子, born 1966) is a writer of 日常の謎 (nichijou no nazo, puzzles of everyday life), a genre of detective stories, where the mysteries are minor events, with no serious crime, often with no crime at all. 魔法飛行 (Mahou hikou, Magic Flight, 1993) is the sequel to ななつのこ (Nanatsu no ko, Seven Children, 1992), which I read some years ago. I didn't feel like rereading it, so I can't write a proper review. The basic set up is of a young college student IRIE Komako, retelling a mystery from a children's book that she's a fan of, her fan letter to the author, which happens to mention some minor mystery she has come across in real life, the author's reply, solving the mystery. So we get two sets of short story mysteries, one (the stories from the book Komako has read) involving a small farmer's young child and his friend, a mysterious girl who solves the puzzles he brings her, the other from the external narrator Komako, whose puzzles are solved by the author she writes to. For a little more detail, you can read Ho-Ling's discussion here. I don't share the view that mysteries need a murder; but I would agree that the stories feel a little too diluted for a mystery fan. They may have had too little ambition as mysteries; but as a narrative exercise, with different kinds of narration, paired related mysteries, and an overarching larger mystery, they certainly deserve admiration. 

The narrator's enthusiastic retelling of the stories from the book within the book was a slight hurdle for me. In real life, we tolerate that kind of thing from good friends; but they generally don't succeed in communicating the qualities of the original in the slightest. If you've ever listened to an acquaintance performing the parts of a classic Monty Python sketch, backtracking here and there, because they've forgotten a favourite bit, you'll know how tedious this can be. Komako's internal narration is not that bad, and of course one feels sympathy for a fan's enthusiasm; but it still felt as though I was looking at the stories of the internal narrative through clouded glass.

The way that the story in ななつのこ develops makes a continuation of this format impossible; and I was wondering where a sequel could go. In 魔法飛行, there are only four stories, each featuring a single mystery. If I remember there were more mysteries in the first book (7 times 2?). So the mysteries here are much longer than those. Komako is now writing to 瀬尾 (SEO, I think: the book doesn't provide furigana for the name), a young man she met in the first book; and sending him accounts of her daily life, written up as stories, but unfinished. Seo comments on the writing and also solves a puzzle in the stories. But then, after each story and Seo's solution of each mystery, there follows what seems to be a letter to Komako from a reader of Komako's stories, written as if to the fictional character Komako. The writer of these letters describes them as letters from a different dimension, and compares him or herself to children writing a letter to Santa Claus or to people who write to Sherlock Holmes. This is an interesting idea and certainly sets the reader wondering where it is heading. These letters from nowhere are the larger mystery of the book, growing darker as the stories progress, in contrast to the generally light tone of Komako's narrative.

The stories also show a greater interest in drama or in classical detective story elements like inexplicable situations than most of those in the first book. The puzzle of the first story is very minor (why would a girl enter different false names in the college lecture attendance register?) and serves more to introduce the major characters and their lives; but the following feature such things as an attempt to save a life, a ghost story of a painting on a bridge of a boy who died in an accident there turning into a painting of a skeleton, and an apparent case of communication by telepathy.

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