I don’t know about you all, but when I imagined how our protagonist might meet his come-uppance, “Columbo ex machina, followed by exploding” was not what I expected at all.
General thoughts about the book and club as a whole
Overall I enjoyed it! As promised, it’s definitely lurid and strange.
I don’t think it was as perfect for the book club as I’d hoped though.
My favorite moments when reading Ranpo are when you’re pulled forward by the suspense and give in to the weird, obsessive, dreamlike state of what’s happening and just push through it, dancing over the descriptions as much as you’re able to as a learner and getting sucked into the delirium. And I think there’s definitely scenes that manage that here, but the start and stop of the regular book club schedule made it harder to get sucked in like that, I thought (so eventually I broke through the schedule and read through the rest).
Plus, I think prolonging it and talking about it with other people made me especially hope for more from the plot. The setup is very compelling, but the ending is kind of odd and anticlimactic (where did that detective come from anyway?) and the biggest payoff is a prolonged murder sequence that’s effective but maybe not in a “I would show it to a bunch of strangers” sort of way.
I still enjoyed the book and the club though, and I hope you did too!
More detailed book thoughts
One thing I thought stood out to me as maybe why I had more complicated feelings towards Panorama Island than my favorite other Ranpo stories I’ve read, is that there’s no frame story!
Maybe my favorite thing about Ranpo’s writing style in the previous collection I’ve read (the first one from the same series as amazon link I used in these threads, headlined by The Human Chair) is how Ranpo frequently utilized a compelling frame story that enhanced the story it surrounded greatly.
This one just has that bit at the beginning about the island, but otherwise isn’t framed, and so it feels a bit like… just… “here’s a pretty messed up story” as opposed to “here’s a pretty messed up story… that I was told to by a stranger in the twilight of a Tokyo park” or the like. The latter lets him get away a lot more with the absurd and mysterious details, I think.
But in the end honestly I’m very glad to have read this story. Something about it has this odd charm, especially in retrospect, after my initial reaction to the ending faded. Like, for some reason I enjoy imagining saying to myself “have you heard that one story, the one about the guy, who looked so much like this other rich guy, that he robbed his grave and took his place and then built a big stupid island and blew up?” and being like, “yes, I know exactly the story you mean - that’s the guy with the seaweed tunnel who murdered the wife of the guy he looked exactly like and stuck her in a pillar on his ridiculous island.”
I don’t know if that makes sense.
Finally - I do think there’s something sort of special about how this as a utopian novel.
Like - if I think of early 20th-century utopian novels (albeit not being nearly as well-read on them as Ranpo surely was) and especially the World’s Fair aesthetic that informs the island, I think of like… how great the 20th Century is going to be, and all the societies we’re going to plan out and build that will change the world.
And from a 21st Century perspective… there’s something grimly prescient I think that as far as the book goes, the answer to “what utopia can you build with money?” is “a big doomed unsustainable pleasure palace for the one dude who has all the money.” and the answer to “how do you get the money you need to change the world?” is “grave rob and take the place of someone with family wealth.”
That rings more true to me today than the more earnest turn-of-the-century utopias I’d imagine.
I’d like to hear what you all thought as you finish up as well!
(and of course any questions/comments on the last two chapters themselves)
While I’m wrapping up, I thought I’d mention the manga adaptation by Suehiro Maruo (it won a Tezuka prize for New Artist, and weirdly has an English wikipedia page while the original story does not).
About the manga adaptation
I read it right after finishing the story and that made the pacing seem waaaaay faster, but it’s definitely a mostly faithful and grandly illustrated adaptation of the story, that injects a little bit of 1920s history to tie it into the time when it was written. It also replaces the detective with Ranpo’s famous one, Kogoro Akechi, I guess to make him seem that much less out of nowhere.
Ultimately I prefer Ranpo’s prose, but I know at the very least some of you will find it being replaced in certain sequences like this one especially cathartic!
Obviously, there’s a whole lot of nudity, so be aware about that I guess.
The movie Horrors of Malformed Men is the only other (partial) adaptation I know of available in the English-speaking world, but there’s apparently a television drama in the series 江戸川乱歩の美女シリーズ, and an older manga called 血とばらの悪魔, for what that’s worth.
If at all curious, the back-up story in the paper collection I read is 石榴. It’s more straightforwardly detective-y, and has some similar themes and a good frame story. I enjoyed it well enough. The title is extremely gross in context.
Finally, I’ll talk a little about the commentary at the back of the collection. It’s pretty businesslike and not all that interesting (except it off-handedly mentions a 1957 musical adaptation?? What the hell was THAT like! I can find tantalizing traces of a program online but that’s all I know).
BUT I thought this quote from the author, 江戸川乱歩 himself, from a 1962 newspaper essay, was interesting enough to reproduce here:
I hope you look forward to Yokomizo-kun’s work up next in the club!
What did you think of The Strange Tale of Panorama Island?