gogmagog: Randall Skeffington from <i>Ugly Americans</i> (Delicious brains)
[personal profile] gogmagog
Okay, so I'm finally getting around to writing about my recent interest in Natsuhiko Kyogoku. [personal profile] charmian and [personal profile] manticore were raving about his book The Summer of the Ubume, first in the Kyogokudo series, so I picked it up from my university library and gave it a try. Unsurprisingly, given the recommenders, it turned out to be pretty awesome (and pretty disturbing).

The novel is set in post-WW2 Japan and is narrated by freelance journalist Tatsumi Sekiguchi. When he hears an urban legend about a woman whose husband has disappeared, and who has apparently been pregnant for almost two years, he goes to talk about it with his friend Akihiko Chuzenji, the atheist exorcist-slash-used bookstore owner - alias "Kyogokudo," the name of his store. This is just the beginning, and when the pregnant woman's sister visits a private eye who happens to know both Sekiguchi and Kyogokudo, Sekiguchi finds himself being drawn into the case and realizing he has ties to the case in his own past. As the plot thickens - Is the husband missing or dead? Why have babies been disappearing? And why does a psychic keep seeing frog-headed babies? - it's up to Kyogokudo to bring the dirty details to light before anyone else gets hurt or killed.

Intriguingly, despite being billed by the author as a "youkai" novel, it actually has very little supernatural stuff actually happening. (Enokizu's visions are the exception, but they are characterized more as some kind of extrasensory perception as-yet-undiscovered by science than as a truly paranormal/magical thing.) Also, I have never read a novel with such a psychologically brittle main character as Sekiguchi...admittedly, as we discover, he has some reasons for this, but it definitely makes for interesting reading. He goes off the rails in the sequel, too, so I'm really interested in reading the later books when/if they get translated to see how far out Sekiguchi can go.

One warning: Kyogoku likes long philosophical discussion, especially from the mouth of Kyogokudo (who, as per the name, is clearly an author avatar of sorts, but is more like Rohan Kishibe or Ariadne Oliver than your typical Mary Sue). So just be aware that every once in a while you get a long infodump, but at least it's an interesting one. Honestly, I got caught up in it enough that it was only afterwards that I realized, "hey, that dialogue scene went on for 50+ pages, wow!" So as infodump scenes go, they're pretty good, especially if you're at all into Japanese mythology or philosophy in general.

(Don't worry, though, there's plenty of bizarre shit in there to keep you reading through the infodumps...and plenty of action, even before the climactic WTFSPLOSION scene.)

If this sounds interesting, give the novel a try! You can get it on Amazon here, and once you finish that you can check out the anime based on the sequel, Mouryou no Hako!

(Sadly, when [personal profile] manticore e-mailed Vertical to ask about Mouryou, they replied that they will probably not be translating it due to its length - over 1000 pages in Japanese - but they have said that they may publish later books in the series that are shorter. Still, the adaptation is quite faithful from what I hear from [personal profile] charmian, who is currently reading it in Japanese, so you'll get that patented Kyogoku weirdness in spades.)

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Eldrad must live

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