When I spotted Ryu Murakami’s ‘In the Miso Soup’ on the shelves in Waterstones, I immediately knew I had to review it for the blog. And so, that’s how we’ve come to our third #NaNoWriMo book review of the month. This book is disturbing, terrifying and hilarious all at the same time.
Twenty year-old Kenji is a Japanese “nightlife” guide for foreigners — he navigates gaijin (foreign) men around the sex clubs and hostess bars of Tokyo. Just before New Year’s Eve, he receives a phone call from an American named Frank, who seeks three nights of his services. While Kenji has promised to spend more time with his girlfriend, sixteen year-old Jun, the money is too good to pass up. He finds himself closing out the end of the year accompanying Frank around Shinjuku, wondering if his strange, plastic-skinned patron could be responsible for the gruesome events recently reported in the news. There are a couple of great things about this book; the first being that it actually teaches you a lot about the Japanese sex industry. Maybe not most people’s first choice of study but it’s interesting nonetheless.
‘In the Miso Soup’ takes you beyond the arcades in Akihabara and into the dark, seedy alleys filled with peep shows, dating bars and lingerie pubs, where a strange selection of men and women are united by their loneliness and other unfortunate circumstances. If you feel you’ve read your fair share of sparkly and flashy Tokyo-based novels, ‘In the Miso Soup’ is a world away from that. You’re also kept guessing from one page to the other and it’s very difficult to find a good place to set it down.
Kenji suspects Frank might have murderous intentions and may not really be who he says he is, but you’re constantly doubting his own sanity and wondering whether he’s simply just paranoid. Frank is, without a doubt, a complete weirdo – but so are most western men who request tours around Tokyo’s sex bars, surely?
The plot itself also moves slowly and, while entertaining and very descriptive, not much ‘happens’ until at least halfway through the novel. This really builds up the tension for when something really disturbing eventually happens but I was so caught off guard I was almost laughing hysterically and wondering if something was really wrong with me.
There’s no shortage of the extremely-violent-yet-strangely-hilarious in Japanese pop culture (Battle Royale, Higurashi no Naki Koro ni, Mirai Nikki), so if that’s you’re thing you really need to read ‘In the Miso Soup’. The less I say about this book the better, but I’d like to draw your attention to the cover. It wasn’t until I’d finished the book that I realised I wasn’t looking at a strange manga-esque ghost but a decapitated head. Maybe I’m just particularly daft but I like to think it was intentional…