The first thought I have when writing about this book is that it was almost impossible to put down, especially the first half where I resorted to walking and reading at the same time to squeeze a few more pages in.
Kenji operates a type of one on one tour guide business, showing tourists the unseen sex sights of Tokyo. He is hired by an American businessman, Frank, for three days leading up to and including new year. This immediately creates a problem for Kenji who had promised his girlfriend he would spend new years eve with her. Frank however is persuasive and it turns out that annoying his girlfriend is the least of Kenji’s worries.
There is something odd about Frank. He looks unnatural, never feels the biting cold and tells blatant lies. Kenji feels uncomfortable, then frightened, then powerless. Frank knows all about him, where he lives, where his girlfriend lives..
While Kenji introduces Frank to the seedy side of Tokyo’s nightlife, Ryu Murakmai does a brilliant job of slowly building the tension. Frank is weaving his web and Kenji is being lured into it. The reader is trying to figure out, along with Kenji, if Frank is just short of friends and a bit wierd or a complete psychopath.
The main theme of the book is one of lonlieness and lack of cultural identity. According to Kenji many Japanese high school girls “sell it” and his own girlfriend was involved in “compensated dating” when they met. Then there is Frank who is a sad portrait of a lonely and disturbed man.
There is a section about half way through which is very violent in a graphic and humiliating way. After this scene. for me the story lost its way. The reaction of the main characters and the tone of the remainder of it didn’t really fit and while I could see the reason for the ending, I didn’t find it very convincing.
A gripping read but I was left wondering what the point of it was.
Translated from the Japanese by Ralph McCarthy