Monday, 30 March 2015

Eugenia

ユージニア (Eugenia, 2005) by ONDA Riku (恩田陸) won the Mystery Writers of Japan Award in 2006. The book describes a mass poisoning and its aftermath over several decades.

The family of a respected doctor in the Hokuriku town of K (which doubtless stands for Kanazawa) are celebrating a major family anniversary. A motorcycle delivery man brings alcohol and juice, saying that it is sent by an old friend of the doctor. When the family and visiting neighbours drink a toast together, all of them, including several children, die, leaving only a servant and the daughter of the family, blind middle school student Hisako.

Ten years later, one of the children who discovered the mass murder, Makiko, then in junior school, now a student, interviews those witnesses she can find about the crime. Her researches result in a book, The Forgotten Celebration, which becomes a bestseller. The book, though, has some oddities that might make you wonder what her aim in writing it was. Now, decades after that book, someone is interviewing the surviving witnesses again. Most of the chapters are a dialogue with one voice (the interviewer's) removed. A few chapters are internal monologues of characters from the present or the past, or told by an external narrator.

As the various narrators contribute, it becomes clear that most people suspect the blind Hisako of having engineered the massacre. The story becomes a kind of horror story, filling the reader with unease about what Hisako, Makiko, and the unseen interviewer are looking for. The story has 'clues' of a sort, marked bits of the narrative which are obviously going to be explained later; but the explanations when they came seemed fairly abritrary (that is I felt the writer could have spared us the clue).

In my case much of the unease was a suspicion that the story was not going to make any sense. And did it? I don't really know, to be honest. The book was something of a struggle to read; and I had lost interest long before the end. Neither the characters nor the narration were really vivid; most were dreamlike, half sedated. The format, in which we frequently switch between speakers, without an indication of the change, was probably more demanding for me, since as a language learner I miss a lot of the subtler clues that a Japanese speaker would pick up on.

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