For me, this book felt like it was less than the sum of its parts.
I liked most of the individual chapters, but had trouble motivating myself to get started each week. For most books, the hardest part is the beginning - but reading this one felt like I was experiencing that over and over (mostly a language-learner problem).
There were tons of details that just… didn’t seem to matter.
The part with Hisako’s mom seemed so random. The explanation for the big mystery of the book is that she was afraid of her mom - but so what? It feels like it’s supposed to explain why she murdered everyone, but “she can’t stand other people” and “she was abused” don’t feel connected at all.
I was particularly disappointed that part of the flower explanation was essentially “she got the flower’s name wrong, idk why.”
I don’t know, maybe I just didn’t get it. I don’t regret reading it, but I wasn’t really satisfied with how it all came together.
The thing with her mother was never properly explained, nor was it possible to be explained. It was something Saiga surmised (in her feverish state) by connecting scattered observations. I don’t think Hisako was necessarily abused. She must have been 5 at the most, and that room was always closed and strange, the room where her mother isolated herself to pray. In big houses there are always rooms with restricted access for whatever reason, and they often feel mysterious, even scary, to kids. So little Hisako had done something, and her mother wanted her to confess to God and pray. Hisako was afraid, but this doesn’t mean that any kind of abuse actually took place. We don’t really know why Hisako reverted to that memory after the mass poisoning, we don’t even know whether she was actually in shock or pretending or what. But the room and this specific memory had definitely left an impression on her. And that’s one thing I loved about the book, actually. There were no easy answers. In fact, for many details there were no answers at all. It was not as simple as “Hisako did it”. It was a series of coincidences, and little things accumulating, that led to this. Interconnected lives and moments that interacted with each other to lead to this outcome instead of another. So many things could have gone differently, at so many points. But they didn’t. And the murder itself continued to affect people differently, and influence their lives and decisions, for decades - even people who weren’t around at the time, like the interviewer - or maybe even, in a small way, the readers themselves.
I must say this book clearly exceeded my language level. (Or maybe my brain level? Not sure.)
All these conversations where it often took me too long to understand what was narrative and what was speech, and who was talking to whom, and sometimes not even how many people there were… And very often I did not fully understand what or whom they were referring to in their monologues.
This reminded me quite a bit of 雪国 where I also gave up because of the dialogues where I never knew what they were talking about…
Anyways, other than that, I liked the beginning quite a lot, with the interviews and the rambly narrative of the first chapter and everything. But it was just too long for my taste, and the outcome was too little. Hisako was already the prime suspect since the end of chapter 1, and the rest of the book was like “can it really be true, or is the author setting us up here?” and that was wayyyy too dragged out in my opinion. And in the end, we don’t even get a clear “yes she did it and that’s how and why” but instead more 3rd person thoughts and ideas.
I mostly liked the book but didn’t feel like the ending really worked (even given that the author says in the afterword that she wanted to write a book that was unsettling and that didn’t give you a single clear truth). For instance, what happened to the ‘interviewer’? They were talking to Sayako in chapter 13, and then…nothing.
Also, the last chapter leaves us with one final contradiction – here Makiko learns about the conversation between Sayako and the policewoman, is super surprised, goes to the park to think about it and immediately dies of heatstroke. But at the end of chapter 1 when Makiko is talking to the interviewer she says then that she learned about it that same day as she’s talking to the interviewer who she’s just guided through the town and the old building in the park. I suppose you could say the whole book was Makiko’s feverish final thoughts, but that’s definitely really unsatisfying.
It sounds like they went a bit nuts with the book design for the original release. This website has some pictures of the tracing-paper cover and the thing they did with the ‘Eugenia note’ and the skewed text.
Mmm. You could argue that it would make sense, even, that when 12-year-old Hisako does a really bad thing (killing her family) she flashes back to this strong memory of “I did a bad thing and this is what happened and I needed forgiveness”. Though it’s not clear to me why finding out about this is such an OMG moment for Makiko.
The timeline was a little confused in my head, but I checked and she does indeed say to the interviewer that she met the policewoman that same day. I also thought that she was supposed to be returning home that day or the next, but I can’t find that bit, so maybe I’m imagining it. We had talked about how she could not have died on the same day as the interview because of the rain, but I’m not sure how Japanese summer rains work. Isn’t it possible that they last only a short time, and then the intense heat evaporates all the water on the ground? Although I think the report left no room for rain on that day. Maybe the rain was actually in her imagination, because she remembered that rainy day so strongly? This is indeed very unclear.
Very good point. As to why it’s a revelation to Makiko, I think it has to do with how everyone sees only part of the picture (even us). Makiko didn’t know about the constant noise driving Hisako to distraction. She probably thought that there really was some kind of abuse going on and that she finally found Hisako’s motive. She had been looking for dirt on the family in the gossip magazines after all. It’s interesting how she was always close to the truth (if we accept Hisako’s version as the truth) but for all the wrong reasons. It’s also somewhat jarring for the reader to see Makiko be wrong, because for the whole book she was accepted as the authority on that crime, and we were led to believe that she knew more than she was saying, when in fact she was as much in the dark as we were.
My interpretation was that there just wasn’t really anything else to say about the interviewer. They confronted Hisako, Hisako refused to explain why she killed everyone, and the interviewer kind of broke down - they’ll never know the truth, nor will anyone else (other than Makiko).
Hmm, I don’t think I can accept that Makiko was wrong. It would be very weird for the prologue and the final chapter to just be Makiko going down the wrong path. IMO the revelation about the prayer room was what let her completely understand Hisako, essentially completing her goal of “becoming” Hisako right as she died.
Broadly I feel the same as @Escalus - it was eventually hard to get started each week. I also agree with @pm215 that the ending didn’t really feel like it worked. I finished the last chapter and didn’t have the lingering wondering that a good loose ending gives me, but a sense of “huh, that’s it? Just gonna leave me hanging?”
I broadly enjoyed this, but it didn’t quite live up to my expectations from the first few chapters I suppose.
I quite enjoyed the book although I agree it dragged on a little.
Having also read 夜のピクニック by the same author, I think she’s pretty good at creating characters that feel realistic with lots of little thoughts and details.
Regarding the ending, I’d read a bunch of amazon reviews where people complained that it was too vague, and honestly I expected much worse. We get something pretty close to a confession from Hisako. We get a motive (too much noise!) and a possible second one (abuse?). We get an explanation on why Makiko wrote the book (she wanted Hisako to know she was “watching her”). The second hand book store fire also gets explained. I feel like most important things are tied up, but apparently I’m the only one
I agree it’s not a particularly easy book, what with each chapter having a different narrator/context/time frame that you have to figure out all of over again, and some later chapter(s) (don’t remember if there was more than one) with unmarked speech mixed into the narration. I think we can all be pretty proud for finishing it!
I’m also glad to have read it with the book club because I would’ve missed a lot of things that you all noticed/figured out.
In contrast to most people here, I was excited to read Eugenia every week and would drop anything else for it. Because of the nature of the chapters I was kept from wanting to read it too fast, and I think in fact the pauses between readings were beneficial in clearing my mind a little from the previous narrator before tackling the next. Not only was I excited to read every week, I actually felt at a loss when it finished - I’d happily stay in that world for longer. I loved 恩田陸’s writing. Nearly everything else I was reading at the same time felt flat and colourless in comparison.
As for the mystery, like @miwuc I too feel that most major points were tied up, but there’s a lingering vagueness even there because there’s no objective narrator, only a lot of subjective truths. There are points left unexplained (for example, what about that red car? or why have someone call at the time of the poisoning?), but this feels true to life. Not all details matter, and not all questions will be answered. I get why it may feel unsatisfying (in mysteries usually everything is a piece of the puzzle and part of the final picture), but I have a particular fondness for books that explore how there is no single truth but instead a broken mirror of subjective impressions.
All in all, I can’t wait to read some more 恩田陸. I just hope the rest of her books live up to Eugenia.