Okay, I’m finished reading the story now. Just like 獄門島, a really depressing story about the postwar breakdown of a once prosperous family. Almost a companion piece to 獄門島 in a way, but also with themes in common with 本陣, as you noted.
Spoilers (regarding the conclusion)
As I said, I see connections to both 本陣 and 獄門島. Like in 本陣, we have a powerful grandmother at the head of the family who sort of wills the murders into happening without having any sort of direct connection. We also have a husband murdering his wife over concerns of purity.
There are a lot of similarities with 獄門島 as well. Sons coming home from war. Concerns about who will carry on the family line. Why did the grandmother want 真吉 to marry 梨枝 anyway? Who knows. I guess once a thought takes root, it’s hard to shake.
But yeah, 気の毒の大助, and also 気の毒の小野家. I thought the scene where 宇一郎 begged for the 屏風 was really sad. From that point on, I thought the grandmother was pretty ruthless and figured she must be up to something. And in the end, her plans turn out to be in vain. Just like the convoluted plan carried out by the three elders in 獄門島.
Finally, I confess that the conclusion would have been more satisfying to me if the dead man had actually been 伍一. The idea that he gouged out his eyes just to get revenge on the 本位田 family was a skin-crawling 江戸川乱歩-esque concept that would have added a grotesque angle to the whole sordid affair.
As it is though, it just feels like a sad story about a family killing each other off for no good reason. Not quite as satisfying, strangely enough. Haha.
As an entry in the 金田一 series (more spoilers)
At first I felt a bit annoyed to realize that 金田一耕助 doesn’t even appear in the story until the very end. But having read to the end, I’m glad that we chose to read this one directly after 獄門島 after all. As I said above, the themes are very complementary, and having the 金田一 chronology in the back of your head adds an extra layer of resonance to the conclusion, I think. Remembering what low spirits 耕助 was in at the end of 獄門島, regarding the needless decimation of the 本鬼頭 family, it’s easy to see how he would have been drawn in by the 本位田 case upon his return. The sad thing is, since the murder and investigation were taking place just as 耕助 left for 獄門島, this ended up being yet another series of tragic deaths that he was unable to prevent. Just more emotional baggage for 耕助, 気の毒の耕助よ…
(Spoilers for 獄門島 are blurred)
For a short story, that was quite a heavy week of reading! Maybe 黒猫亭事件 will be a bit lighter? We can hope…