Penance by Kanae Minato




This book was (sort of) recommended to me by Edward Lorn. He wrote a fantastic review for it and I really do go by his recommendations. If he says a horror book is good, then I know it is.

While this book was an utterly fantastic read for him, it was just good for me. Certainly not bad, just not as good as I wanted it to be. I love Asian horror and I think that they do it right compared to the rest of the world’s bloody and gory mess, so I had high hopes going into it. As I said, this is a good book. I would recommend it to people if they want something that’s creepy, not too violent, and is told in a unique way with great writing. The translation for this was fantastic. I didn’t feel as if I lost anything in it. The writing remained as beautiful as I’m sure it was in Japanese.

However. This book is a bit confusing to get through. I didn’t know the phrase until I read Ed’s review, but this is a mosaic novel. There are five main stories in this book and they all intersect. Every single story tells the general information of the catalyst for this story: Five girls went out to play, one went away with a man and was murdered. I’m not giving anything away by saying that. Each story/chapter is a different person telling that day to you, along with what has happened to them over the fifteen years since the crime occurred. In each story/chapter, you learn a little bit more about that day, a little closer to finding out what really happened. For me, it was hard to figure out who was talking. The voices, for me, were indistinct and blended together in my mind, so I had to really think about who could be telling their story.

The horror also didn’t catch me much. I found it creepy and I wanted to know what happened, but it didn’t hold me on the edge of my chair. I could read it, then set it down. Read some more, set it down. It never quite hooked me in, even though I was interested in finding out. The stories are creepy, but I never felt it became the tone of the book, even as I found out more about that day and the circumstances.

There were also some personal problems I had with it. Japanese culture is, I will say, sexist. That shines through in this book. It usually made my nose wrinkle, but the first story was rough for that exact reason. Which brings me to my second point. This isn’t a trigger warning or anything, just saying that there is stuff to do with menstruation. That’s a topic that gets to me, but not necessarily one everyone has a problem with. It really bothered me, especially the context it was in.

For me, this was a good book that had some flaws — mainly personal ones — that detracted from my reading experience. While I think that it’s a very interesting story and told in an interesting way, I think it still needs a bit of work to really hook me in. One day I know I’d like to reread this to see if I can pick up the nuances, but not right now.

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