Monday, 24 May 2021

Summer, Fireworks, and My Corpse - Otsuichi

 


Otsuichi (Hirotaka Adachi) is a master of Japanese Horror.  The origins of the form lie in the 19th century when traditional Japanese ghost stories became a fad in the West.  Nowadays it means horror stories arising from everyday contemporary life.  Thus, for example, Black Fairy Tale, Otsuichi's first novel and the longest item in this collection, is fundamentally about transplant surgery.

Summer, Fireworks, and My Corpse was his debut, a novella written when he was only 18 and still in high school, which went on to be nominated for the prestigious Shirley Jackson Award.  That is about nine-year-old Satsuki who dies in a childish accident but whose death is covered up by her playmate Yayoi and her slightly older brother Ken.  The action is narrated by Satsuki, even after death, which is a fascinating device and I did not see the final twist coming.

Next is 'Yuko', a short story about a widow who gets a job with keeping house with a wealthy writer and his invalid second wife Yuko.  Only the housekeeper is never allowed to see Yuko and naturally begins to suspect that she doesn't exist.  The story, set shortly after Japanese defeat in World War II, is beautifully elusive and I'm not entirely sure what happens at the end, which is fine by me.

Then we have Black Fairy Tale, in which teenager Nami receives a donated left eye to replace the one she lost in an accident which also cost her her memory.  She is not the same Nami she was before the accident and her parents and schoolfriends cannot accept the change.  She starts having visions in the transplanted eye and realises they are things seen by the donor.  She sets out to track him down and finds he was a young man killed in a hit and run accident.  She goes to his home town to investigate further and blunders into a real horror.

The great thing about Otsuichi, especially in Black Fairy Tale, is his layering.  For example, who is the author of the Black Fairy Tale collection of stories, one of which - 'The Eye's Memory' - is included here.  In that story a talking raven steals human eyes which it gives to an eyeless girl.  When she puts them in her sockets she has dreams of what the eyes had seen.  Thus the parallels seep over into the main narrative and, when we look back after reading the novel, provide key clues.

I really enjoyed this collection - it's the perfect way to plunge into Otsuichi's grim world as well as a useful introduction to the genre.  I certainly want to try more of both.

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