Confessions by Kanae Minato
A teacher takes revenge when her daughter is murdered on school grounds.
Kanae Minato (湊かなえ) became an international bestselling crime writer with her novel Confessions (告白), and has published 10 additional novels since her 2008 debut.
Stephen Snyder has translated works by Kenzaburo Oe, Ryu Murakami, Miri Yu and Kafu Nagai, among others. His translation of Natsuo Kirino’s Out was nominated for an Edgar Award.
Kanae Minato, a former home economics teacher turned housewife, wrote her first novel, Confessions, in between the usual hum of daily chores. Published in 2008 to international acclaim, it was swiftly adapted into an Oscar-nominated film, and has been called “the Gone Girl of Japan” for its dark themes and sinister style. The 2014 English edition—crafted by translator Stephen Snyder—brings this psychological thriller to monstrous life, gradually unfolding a story that grows more spine-tingling with each page.
Yuko Moriguchi is a middle school teacher and single mother to her 4-year-old daughter, Manami. Forced to raise Manami alone after her fiancé is diagnosed with HIV and the wedding is called off, Yuko’s one shining light is her happy, healthy daughter. One day after a teacher’s meeting Manami goes missing, only to be found hours later on the grounds of the school swimming pool in what police rule an accidental drowning. Yuko is devastated, but her grief is eclipsed by rage when she stumbles upon a piece of evidence suggesting that her daughter was murdered at the hands of Yuko’s own students. But since the killers are only 13 years old, she knows that, even if the case was reopened, they wouldn’t face any real consequences for their crime. Traumatized and vengeful, she resigns at the end of the year, but not before she tells the entire homeroom that two of their classmates killed Manami. Yuko’s rage-fuelled vendetta begins with her farewell speech, in which she calls the killers “A” and “B.” Despite the anonymous nicknames, their classmates quickly realize the students’ true identities, and Yuko’s speech sets off a series of chilling events that build to an explosive conclusion.
Each chapter introduces a new character’s first person account of the event, bookended by Yuko’s perspective. The killers, 13-year-old Shuya and Naoki, are misanthropes, one a friendless genius and the other a mediocre mama’s boy. Naoki is an impulsive foil to Shuya’s icy coldness, naïve where Shuya is cynical. Both seek out Yuko’s approval at different times and come away feeling slighted, like she’s failed the ideal of the sitcom teacher, a friend-mentor who will pal around and indulge their bad behaviour. Their resentment lays the groundwork for a single murder, but the consequences of their actions ripple out into the lives of their own families and everyone in their class.
Minato’s detailed portrayal of the characters’ twisted inner worlds will give you goosebumps. But what makes them so horrifying—and so compelling—is the eerie sense of familiarity you get in those moments when they are human, when they’re simply boys at the arcade or the burger shop. Their anger is born of trivial adolescent snubs, hurt feelings which are compounded by strained home lives. Both boys have fraught relationships with their mothers—women who must be strong-willed to compensate for the boys’ fathers, who are absent in body or mind.
The novel’s full of breathtaking cruelty, but what’s most horrifying is how these acts bloom, like the spot of blood from a pinprick, out of the minor wreckage of daily life. With this novel, Minato explores the hard truths of 21st-century living: the isolation of being a teenager, the prejudice and fear behind bullying, the conflicting pressures of being a parent or teacher, and the yawning gap between media and reality. As readers, we sense these characters struggling, but as quickly as we’ve identified a reason for all the violence, reason disappears. “I want to warn you,” as one character says, “against easy explanations.” Every confession in this story has a deceitful shadow, and each lie takes on a glimmer of truth. If that’s the case, the devil must be in the details.
More from translator Stephen Snyder
Asura Girl by Otaro Maijo (舞城 王太郎)
Aiko lives a life of casual sex and violence, though she harbours a schoolgirl crush on her old classmate, Yoji. When murders and kidnappings begin, Aiko places all hope in Yoji….
Revenge: Eleven Dark Tales by Yoko Ogawa (小川 洋子)
The fates converge in these stories to weave an ominous web around each of Ogawa’s carefully depicted characters: an aspiring writer, a landlady, a surgeon, a cabaret singer and a craftsman.