By Kanae Minato
This as well as The Between are books I must have found together on some random Internet site, but Lord knows if I remember what it was. This is another one I’m glad to have picked up though.
Much like The Between, this book was a thriller written by a Japanese woman. She wasn’t writing about women of colour, she wasn’t writing about oppression or racism or sexism or any –ism, she was writing about a few people, you know? There was no big, overarching Japanese history or culture or anything vaguely macro – in fact, it was the opposite. It was micro. Even the women in the story, we see micro-snippets of what we can also presume were micro-lives, that didn’t matter much in the grand scheme of things and never pretended to. There’s a lot to love about how unassuming a story like this is.
Penance is about five children: Sae, Maki, Akiko, Yuko, and Emily, who grow up in a small town together. One day, they’re tricked into separating from their friend Emily by a stranger. Emily is found dead hours later. However, all four kids aren’t able to identify the stranger to the police – and Emily’s mother curses the girls, that they will pay for her daughter’s murder.
Now, the book is written from an adult perspective of each girl, years after the murder. One after the other, and the mother as well. Even from this onset, it’s such a sick book – instead of having your traditional third person narratives, or even the first, you have a range. You have a letter, or someone exclusively talking to someone, or an interview. Minato plays with mediums like nobody else (in fact, the closest story I can think of that just plays around with mediums so well is fanfiction of the Avengers) and she pulls it off. The thriller was just cool too. I didn’t see it coming. Any of it. Not even the first chapter. And you have these five characters, four just children when the murder happens, and it does such a good job of going into how they were feeling and what they were thinking then, but also how everything you are comes from everything you were. The book is the perfect example of the butterfly effect – they did things, said things, that nobody could have thought would have an impact, but did eventually. Just, haha, I just really didn’t see anything coming in this one. Got to read more Japanese thrillers cause they’re clearly kings of the genre.