Last Winter We Parted by Fuminori Nakamura
A young writer arrives at a prison to interview a convict. The suspect, a world-renowned photographer named Kiharazaka, has a deeply unsettling portfolio–lurking beneath the surface of each photograph is an acutely obsessive fascination with his subject. He stands accused of murdering two women–both burned alive–and will likely face the death penalty. But something isn’t quite right. As the young writer probes further, his doubts about this man as a killer intensify, and he struggles to maintain his sense of reason and justice. Is Kiharazaka truly guilty, or will he die to protect someone else?
First Impressions: I liked the depressive tone of the narrator. It was clear early on that the gruesome crimes were to take a back seat to an individual’s personal struggle.
Highlights: How unusual to have a crime novel where the crime itself is secondary to the plot. Instead, it details an artist’s futile quest to capture the full essence of a person in a photograph and then in memento dolls. The story is based on Akutagawa’s short story Hell Screen and it doesn’t shy away from references to the original tale. I would have liked an edition that also includes the original story or an abridged version of it but that is just me. I have since sought out a copy of Hell Screen to satisfy my interest. I also liked the narrator’s dissatisfaction and intolerance of his own life; it borders on self-destruction. Finally, although the crime is secondary to the story, it is described in detail near the end. In true Japanese fashion, not an easy one to guess at all!
If I was an editor: I found some of the contributions to conversations a bit inane and unnecessary, such as ‘…Hmmm,’ and ‘…Well, now’. These comments had no effect at advancing the plot. Furthermore, sometimes I found the conversations difficult to follow after a while and became confused with who was talking. The different archival material also became confusing towards the end as it took a little bit to work out who belonged to the story. I don’t think this is a problem with the translation but it all may have been easier to follow in the original Japanese.
Overall: A pastiche of character introspections.
Last Winter We Parted: 4 Stars