Riku Onda, The Aosawa Murders (Japan) & the 2019 Booker Prize

The minute I saw this ravishing book cover, I wanted a copy. And – oh happy day – it’s turned out to be one of my most satisfying crime reads of the year.

Riku Onda, The Aosawa Murders (trans. from Japanese by Alison Watts, Bitter Lemon Press, out Jan 2020)

Opening line: What do you remember?

The Aosawa Murders is an fascinating exploration of a crime: the poisoning of seventeen people at a big family birthday party in 1970s Japan. The case was supposedly solved by the police, but as the novel immediately shows, a number of people have doubts that the truth was properly established – including the lead investigator. In particular, the enigmatic figure of Hisako, the blind daughter and sole family member to survive, is the focus of much scrutiny and speculation.

I loved this novel’s originality, intelligence and verve. Readers are invited to glean new clues about the murders from interviews carried out by an anonymous individual – a kind of Rashomon homage that sifts the memories of those close to the crime, such as local kids who visited the family home, the housekeeper’s daughter, the prime suspect’s neighbour, and the detective in charge of the case. One of these interviewees is Makiko Saiga, who wrote a bestselling book on the crime eleven years after it happened, and who reports on the interviews she carried out back then, creating a kind of Chinese-box narrative on three different time levels (1970s,1980s, 2000s). As we move through the novel, more and more details about what people knew are revealed, along with the toll the crime has taken on them personally. Beautifully written and translated, with great characterization and sense of place, I was hooked from the first to the last page.

Many thanks to Bitter Lemon Press for the preview copy.

Booker Prize news. As you’ve probably heard, the Booker Prize jury staged a ‘joyful mutiny’ and awarded the 2019 prize to two authorsBernadine Evaristo for Girl, Woman, Other, and Margaret Atwood for The Testaments.

I’ve yet to read Girl, Woman, Other, but can thoroughly recommend The Testaments, especially to fans of the Handmaid’s Tale and the excellent TV adaptation. It’s a surprisingly difficult novel to review without giving spoilers away, so I’ll resist detailed descriptions. Suffice to say that it’s a searing exploration of state-sanctioned crimes against women, and features one of the most complex and fascinating characters from the TV series, whose perspective provides fresh insights into the origins and workings of Gilead. It’s a book I’ll be reading at least twice…

6 thoughts on “Riku Onda, The Aosawa Murders (Japan) & the 2019 Booker Prize

  1. The Aosawa Murders sounds intriguing. I’ll see if my library has it.
    I’m thrilled about the Booker Prize winners, and that the judges broke tradition and the rules. I believe
    Bernadine Evaristo is the first Black woman to win that prize. She has a long history of writing, and now
    her other books are being read, too.
    I never read or watched The Handmaid’s Tale because the topic of terrible oppression of women saddens
    me a great deal, and given what is happening to women’s rights in the U.S., it’s a bit of a downer. Not that
    I don’t think Atwood isn’t a good writer. She is. It’s the scenario that is terrifying. I think there are a bunch
    of guys here in power who would love to remake The Handmaid’s Tale here. But there are a lot of
    feisty, independent women who won’t let them get away with this and are challenging them.
    I do want to read Girl, Woman, Other. Only read good comments about it online and it sounds
    like Evaristo is writing about people long ignored in the publishing world. It’s opening up! Such
    a diversity of writers being published now — but I know it’s taken a lot of organizing to get there,
    and it still has a long way to go.

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