The Cat in the Coffin, by Mariko Koike (2009) K

Translated 2009 by Deborah Boliver Boehm.

Date Read: 4.11.10
Book From: Personal Collection, from Vertical, Inc.
Reviewer: Kakaner

Summary

The Cat in the Coffin is a romance/suspense (rather than a romance/mystery as the back cover claims) novel set in Japan that revolves around three lives: Masayo, an aspiring painter who is simultaneously a casual student of Goro, one in a family of famously lucrative artists, and a live-in tutor for Goro’s reserved and precocious daughter, Momoko. As Masayo eagerly begins her duties in the househould, she beings to naively fall for Goro, until the entrance of an old flame sets catastrophic events into motion.

Review

Unfortunately, I have much more gripe than praise for this book, despite giving ample room for consideration given that I was not reading it in the original language. Overall, it is a superficial, cheesy, predictable, simple story, heightened by the fact that it is very apparent Koike was trying to weave a masterful complex tale. First, I would use this book for the classic lesson of “Show. Not tell.” Most of the suspense in the novel would have been halfway effective had Koike not prefaced every twist with flashing red warning signals. Momoko goes out into the snow at night, and Masayo is “filled with a sense of foreboding” and “knows something bad is about to happen.” As she rushes out in the snow after Momoko, she images a sinister scene unfolding (which, I might add, had been set up from the first chapters anyway), which lo and behold, just happens to be the same as the events that actually do take place. In this way, several crucial scenes are effectively ruined throughout the book. It’s actually pretty surprising how Koike manages to wrangle so many elements of Suspense 101 yet is still described as a celebrated mystery and romance writer in Japan.

On another note, the pace, setup, and imagery were very reminiscent of a multitude of animes I have seen. Since the most I have experienced by way of Japanese media is through J-horror and anime, I can only make my comparisons thus. Despite all the storytelling shortcomings, Koike still manages to evoke a strong sense of nostalgia which is central to the atmosphere. It’s something about the post-war era, a society in which artists were celebrated, weekly high-class parties are in full swing, and American elements are widespread and the new trend. There is the same languidness to the storytelling that is found in slice-of-life animes of the same era, a focus on repetitive daily activities and soft dialogue, punctuated by intermittent (but consistent) out-of-the-ordinary events. While these characteristics make for a pleasant, laid-back reading experience, they don’t necessarily create an engaging read. Koike does well capturing the novelty and wonder of the American culture for the Japanese. Goro is a character rather obsessed with America– he owns an American fridge, car, clothes, and dines on American fare in his house for all meals. It is this trait, among others, that draws women to his parties, and part of the magic that attracts Masayo to Goro.

Most of the other downfalls lay within the reading experience. I think that Vertical, Inc. does a commendable job with the translation, but lacks in presentation. The 1st edition is a slim 200 pages, with what must be size 14 or 16 font, each page holding a mere 2 – 3 paragraphs. Even though the writing was relatively mature, it felt childish and stilted because of the large print, and I felt a huge disconnect between the YA presentation and insistently adult genre voice. I’m sure that it was enlarged on purpose since otherwise, the novel would’ve been about 100 pages, more novella than novel.  Also, the translation was a bit awkward at times, and seemed to suffer from Shift+F7 abuse– some big words did *not* belong. The very length of the story itself didn’t allow room for a more complex, less-linear story. Overall, I felt like I was reading an amateur attempt at literature. Despite everything, I can still see The Cat in the Coffin appealing to a niche of readers who would enjoy the pace, style, and simplicity of the story; however, this book was just too insubstantial for me.

This book was provided by Vertical, Inc. for review.

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Mariko Koike

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  1. Emera’s avatar

    Man, and I thought the title sounded so promising, too…

    Reply

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