Top critical review
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"The ghosts of sad, cheap souls live on in sad, cheap furniture."
on 16 November 2011
Ryu Murakami was born in Nagasaki in 1952. His first book, "Almost Transparent Blue" was first published in 1976 and won that year's Akutagawa Prize. "In the Miso Soup" - his eleventh book - was first published in 1997, with the English translation following in 2003.
The story is told by Kenji, a twenty year old nightlife guide based in Tokyo. He specialises in guiding foreigner tourists around the city's sex districts - which wouldn't have pleased his mother too much as she thought he was enrolled on a college preparation course. However, he earns a decent living and hopes - one day - to earn his passage to America. "In the Miso Soup" sees Kenji looking back to the previous December, when he was hired for three days by an overweight American called Frank.
Right from the moment they met, Kenji thought there was something odd about Frank. His initial story about being in Japan on Tokyo is full of holes, and - as time goes on - Kenji's becomes more and more suspicious. (There's no one major lie that rings an alarm bell - it's more a steady stream of little lies that gradually start to add up...Frank mentions two older sisters at one point, but later claims there'd only been boys his family. He also tells Kenji he's a massive baseball fan, but doesn't even know how to hold a bat). More than that, there's something not quite right about how Frank's looks - and it's more than just the extra weight or dressing sloppily. After being ignored by a tout, there's a very worrying change in his expression - even "his eyes lost any recognisable human quality." His wrists are heavily scarred, his skin looks slightly "off" - like it's almost artificial - and, for some reason, he doesn't seem to notice the cold. Frank's weirdness rattles Kenji to the point that he believes the rotund American could actually be responsible for a couple of recent murders...
Despite the one gruesome scene, I'd have described "In the Miso Soup" as more of a puzzle than a mystery / thriller. Somehow, there was something a little unconvincing about Frank and I wasn't left entirely convinced by the book's ending. Having said that, it was an easily read book overall with some nice writing - and it was an awful lot better than some other big sellers I've read. I'd certainly be willing to try a few more by Murakami based on this.