Books: Confessions by Kanae Minato

Japanese author Kanae Minato was a home economics teacher and housewife who wrote her first novel, Confessions, on weekends and in between household chores. The book came out in her home country in 2008 and was a nationwide sensation, at which point it was translated into numerous languages and eventually earned worldwide acclaim. It arrived in the United States in 2014.

The novel is an insidiously nasty psychological horror about revenge and the vile depths that human beings, even children, are capable of sinking to. Seriously, some really messed up shit happens in this thing; not in terms of gore, but just in the breathtaking cruelty displayed by some of the characters, and the terrifying patience and forethought that goes into one of the protagonists’ elaborate plans for vengeance.

The novel is in the epistolary style, consisting of six long chapters, all of which are written from the perspective of a different character. The characters are all talking about various aspects of the same series of events, so as the book goes on, the reader learns more and more disturbing details, and it becomes something like peeling the layers off of a particularly rancid onion.

The first section of the book consists of a lecture that middle school teacher Yuko Moriguchi is giving to her class; she has asked them to stay late so she can lay a few important things out for them before she retires. We learn that her four-year-old daughter Manami has drowned in the school’s pool, presumably accidentally, and at first we believe that this is why Yuko is retiring. Yuko would often bring Manami to school with her because she was a single mother and didn’t have anyone to watch the child, so the little girl would stay in the office with some of the other teachers or students babysitting her. Everyone loved Manami. But one day, she wandered into the pool area to feed a neighbor’s dog, and ended up drowning.

As Yuko speaks to the class, she talks about some seemingly random topics whose significance only becomes clear later on. For example, she discusses a recent free milk program that had been implemented at the school, and how all the kids would have their milk brought in every day with each of their names on the carton. She also talks, again seemingly randomly, about another teacher who was a mentor of hers, and who recently passed away.

And then Yuko starts to get into the meat of the discussion, dropping the bombshell that Manami’s death was not an accident. Not only was Manami murdered, Yuko says, but two of the boys in this class killed her, and Yuko knows exactly who they are. The teacher then talks about how it’s become more common in Japan for children to become killers, and how the justice system tends to go easy on them. So what she’s getting at is that not only does she know the identity of the two boys who killed her daughter, but she doesn’t trust the system to punish them adequately, so she has decided to take revenge on them in her own way.

And what a revenge it is. Holy shit, the lengths that this woman has gone to in constructing this elaborate psychological torture for these two boys is just diabolical, and she’s so calculating about it, which makes it even more horrifying. I don’t want to spoil too much of what her plan entails, because it’s better to go into this knowing as little about it as possible. Every new twist and turn will have your mouth dropping open; I legitimately gasped out loud at least three times while I was reading it, so shocking were some of the reveals.

After the first section from Yuko’s viewpoint, we then get the second section, which is in the form of letters that one of Yuko’s students is writing to her, telling her about what happened after she retired, and sort of updating her on how her revenge plan is bearing fruit. There are also sections written from the two killers’ points of view; these are two thirteen-year-old boys named Shuya and Naoki. Shuya, the mastermind of the little girl’s murder, is a particularly chilling character, a child genius who believes that his intelligence gives him carte blanche to do whatever the hell he wants.

There are no good guys in this novel at all really; everyone is varying shades of fucked up and terrible, but that just makes the story all that much more compelling. At first, you sympathize with Yuko wanting to get revenge on the kids who killed her daughter, but as more details about her plan unfold, you begin to realize that Yuko might be a bigger psychopath than they are, and that maybe the reason why some of these kids are so fucked up is because they learned it from the adults.

This is actually a great, fast-paced read that will have you perched on the edge of your seat and wondering what unbelievably twisted shit is going to happen next. It’s not a fun time, necessarily, because the characters are mostly monsters and the whole book is an in-depth exploration of the very darkest corners of the human psyche, but it is definitely an irresistible page-turner whose depravities will linger long after you’ve finished reading it.

Until next time, keep it creepy, my friends.

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