Review of Fuminori Nakamura’s The Gun, the dark side of Japan

TheGunThe Gun was the first book to be written by Japanese author Fuminori Nakamura, back in 2002, but it is the most recent of his work to be published in English. In the meantime he’s found great success with his other books including the three of his sinister Japan Noir crime books that have also been translated into English: The Thief (for which he won the Kenzaburo Oe prize), Evil and the Mask and Last Winter We Parted.

Nishikawa (he has no family name) is an able but disinterested student, unsure of what he wants to do with his life. Adopted out of an orphanage to parents he appreciates, but with whom he has little in common, he spends most of his free time alone, walking the streets around his home in a Tokyo suburb, or with his friend Keisuke roaming cafes and bars, having sex with random girls when they get lucky, thinking a lot about having sex when they don’t have it.

Then one evening when he seeks shelter from the rain under a bridge across the Arakawa River he finds the body of a man who appears to have committed suicide and steals the gun he finds lying nearby. He is instantly besotted with everything about it; it’s elegant design; the sleek iron grey metal, the carved handgrip. He loves the feel of it in his hand; the heavy weight of it against his body when he recklessly carries it in his coat pocket. Alone in his apartment he luxuriates over it, admiring it as one might a piece of art fondling and luxuriating over it with a tenderness, care and appreciation that are noticeably absent from his sexual encounters.

But admiration becomes obsession, first with actually firing the gun then with fulfilling
its ultimate purpose – to kill. The sudden arrival at his home of a police detective at his Fukidoor is an alarming warning. Quiet, with a disconcerting confidence that he knows Nishikawa has the gun, he warns him of the inevitable repercussions if he takes the next step. Momentarily spooked, Nishikawa cannot resist the gun’s lure. With an almost manic determination he decides that he will kill the woman who lives next door to him and who, he knows, has been beating her young son. And Nakamura sustains the tension right to the great ending, which I don’t want to give away. Suffice it to say that things don’t go according to plan.

From the first paragraph Nakamura sets up the novel beautifully, then adds layer on layer to support Nishikawa’s increasingly nihilistic outlook. And there are no pat layman’s explanations of Nishikawa’s actions (which presumably were all the more shocking in the virtually gun-free Japan). There’s occasional jarring dialogue, notably when Nakamura is taking the reader inside Nishikawa’s mental decision-making, but that doesn’t take away from the overall satisfaction. Now for The Thief.

The Gun by Fuminori Nakamura is translated from Japanese by Alison Markin Powell and in published by Penguin Random House. The Gun won the Schincho Prize for debut fiction. Read an interview with Fuminori Nakamura.

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