"A room without books is like a body without a soul." - Marcus Tullius Cicero

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Piercing by Ryu Murakami

There are two famous ‘Murakami’ authors in Japan, but in the rest of the world Haruki is generally the better known with his works that are usually grounded in magical realism while Ryu writes pulp horror fiction, and is often known in the western world as the ‘other’ Murakami.

Piercing is a good example of gritty, gory, unsettling horror. The story opens with our protagonist - Kawashima Masayuki - standing over his baby daughter’s crib with an ice pick, barely able to suppress the desire to use it on her soft, smooth skin. His inner voices urge him to seek out someone to murder with the weapon, in order to overcome his unspeakable desire. He focuses his impulses on an unsuspecting prostitute - Chiaki - but as he begins to execute his meticulous plan, things begin to unravel as it turns out that Chiaki is about as sane as he is.

The novel is well written and disturbing, and being under 200 pages long it really packs a punch. However, the novel’s focus is on the exploration of the extreme consequences of child abuse, which can make for difficult reading. Some people consider Murakami’s work to be outdated - Piercing was originally published in Japan in 1994, so arguably his books are not as shocking when they finally get round to being translated into English - for Piercing, this was 2008. However I personally think that Murakami’s work is so extreme that I am always shocked; the violence and psychotic elements that are so vivid in his works are well executed and leave me feeling cold.

Although the novel begins with Kawashima, once he meets Chiaki the narrative switches between the two of them, giving the reader unique insight into each protagonists’ thoughts and character. From this the reader can see that each character is heavily misinterpreting the situation and what the other is thinking and doing which not only creates dramatic irony but also transforms the novel into something of a dark comedy.

If I have a significant gripe about Piercing it’s the ending, which was abrupt and disappointing in comparison to the fast paced and exciting tone of the rest of the novel, and it almost felt as though the book hadn’t been finished.

Murakami tends to enjoy highlighting Tokyo’s dark underbelly in his novels - often exploring the red light district Kabukicho and painting a grisly picture of Japan which is likely to deter some travellers from visiting. Piercing is no exception to this rule, and is not advisable for those with weak stomachs, or who are about to embark on a trip to Tokyo! All in all though, Piercing is a good little horror story, but its frank and distressing subject matter combined with the high gore-factor make it a tough read. It is inferior to the two other novels by Murakami that I have read - In the Miso Soup and Coin Locker Babies - so I would suggest giving one of those a read first, as they are more reflective of Murakami’s talent than Piercing.  

Rating: 7/10

My other Ryu Murakami reviews:
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