Book Review: Confessions

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Confessions, by Kanae Minato, is a disturbing tale of blame and revenge.  Set in contemporary Japan, it introduces the reader to a group of young teenagers, their teachers and families, who are each struggling to deal with the impact on their lives of the death of a four year old girl.

On the last day of the school term the dead child’s mother, a teacher, accuses two of her pupils of murdering her daughter. She then reveals her revenge for this act, from which events spiral to their chilling conclusion.

The story is told from the perspective of a number of key characters, enabling the reader to better understand why each acted as they did. None come out well in the unfolding drama. The same weaknesses and blind spots are apparent in different guises, each participant justifying their actions with reasoning that blames others, only rarely accepting any fault for themselves.

The author presents the mind of a killer in a disturbingly believable way. The desire for attention and praise are explored alongside a lack of empathy. The effect that other’s actions may inadvertently have on critical decisions is presented alongside how acts of vengeance can cause ripples in the lives of those close by.

The style of the writing is sparse but engaging. Sympathies are won and then lost as the tale is developed, the shocking denouement denying the reader any relief from the relentless unravelling of lives that had previously been considered so ordinary.

The book leaves much to mull over, not least how blind families can be to fault amongst their own. No answers are offered, except perhaps a warning against seeking revenge. There are no winners in this tale.

I liked the exploration of prejudices, how society judges those who do not conform to an ideal. I recognised and was discomforted by many of the observations. The actions of these protagonists may be extreme, but the catalysts which drove them to act as they did are all too obvious in a society that may not be as civilised as some would like to believe.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Mulholland Books.

Book Review: The Long Fall

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The Long Fall, by Julia Crouch, is described as a revenge thriller about a mother trying to protect her family. I found this aspect of the plot weak. The protagonist irritated me as so many of her actions reeked of stupidity. Her background may have been sheltered, but a working class girl clever enough to have been offered a place at Cambridge would be capable of critical thinking. The way she acted suggested a distinct lack of cognitive awareness.

Having said that, the first half of the book succeeded in drawing me in. The use of journal entries worked well and the characters were believable enough at this stage. Given their ages and the loneliness of the protagonist whilst travelling, it was possible to accept that she would act as described. Each reader comes to a book with their own personal life experiences colouring how they will respond to the unfolding tale, and I have yet to meet a young person as foolish as Emma, but I could swallow that such a girl may exist.

Having created the background and teased with sparse plot details, the build up to the key act was well written. Even though I knew what was coming I was eager to find out the hows and whys. This middle section was tense and enjoyable. Its conclusion left me satisfied and ready to continue with what was to happen next, the revenge. It was this which disappointed.

As soon as Beattie reappeared I guessed what was coming; not all of the finer details, but the gist of what was happening. A supposedly intelligent woman, even one with the many issues described, would not have walked so blindly into every trap set, would not have complied so meekly. I found too many contradictions in Emma. Whereas I could accept some stupidity in a nineteen year old, alone and afraid in a foreign land, it was harder to believe that a woman with the life experiences described could be so blindly foolish.

My antipathy towards the second half of the book grew as it progressed. I could not believe that, given how these people had acted in the past alongside how they acted now, Emma would not have at least suspected that all was not as it seemed. Her unquestioning acceptance grated to such an extent that I struggled to continue with the story.

The concluding chapters went some way towards redeeming a book that I was no longer enjoying. There were a few pleasing plot twists, although some loose ends were perhaps tied up a little too neatly. It was not enough though. The book was about an act of revenge, and this was the aspect that I found weak. A person with the background and intelligence that the protagonist was given would have shown more sense.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Headline.