Book review: 『ファーストラヴ』by Rio Shimamoto

ファーストラヴ
Title: ファーストラヴ
Genre:
First published: 2018
Published: 2018
Format: Bunko
Page Count: 367
夏の日の夕方、多摩川沿いを血まみれで歩いていた女子大生・聖山環菜が逮捕された。彼女は父親の勤務先である美術学校に立ち寄り、あらかじめ購入していた包丁で父親を刺殺した。環菜は就職活動の最中で、その面接の帰りに凶行に及んだのだった。環菜の美貌も相まって、この事件はマスコミで大きく取り上げられた。なぜ彼女は父親を殺さなければならなかったのか?臨床心理士の真壁由紀は、この事件を題材としたノンフィクションの執筆を依頼され、環菜やその周辺の人々と面会を重ねることになる。そこから浮かび上がってくる、環菜の過去とは? 「家族」という名の迷宮を描く傑作長篇。

Introduction

『ファーストラヴ』is a mystery novel that won the Naoki Prize in 2018, one of the most prestigious prizes for popular fiction.

I never read Rio Shimamoto before, and I chose 『ファーストラヴ』because it won the prize.

There is an NHK drama adaptation of the novel and a film adaptation is scheduled for 2021, see more here.

Review

I will say it plainly, I did not like 『ファーストラヴ』. Even though it won the prestigious Naoki Prize, this novel clearly has flaws to me.

The plot of the novel is about the young Kanna who was arrested for the murder of her father. Our protagonist is the psychologist Yuki Makabe who is writing a nonfiction book about Kanna.

The plot surrounding the murder was interesting and clever. I enjoyed seeing the investigation unfold and this is what kept me reading.

However, I found that the characters had no depth at all and were not interesting. This is particularly true concerning our protagonist, who is also the narrator. I already mentioned it in my reading journal when I first talked about this novel, but it just did not feel like this book is written from the first-person perspective, and it took me a while to get used to the author’s writing style.

At some point, I even started to seriously dislike our protagonist Yuki, and reading became a chore. I couldn’t see what made her apt to write this book about Kanna. We don’t see her work on it or even think about it in a professional way, and I never thought that she was particularly good in her field. More than once, I found the questions she asks clumsy and irritating.

There is also a mechanism that I very often dislike when it appears in mystery novels: when the author deliberately retains information concerning the main character’s past only to create more mystery to the reader. To me, the real mystery is the one that both the reader and the protagonist do not know. If there are constant hints about a previous relationship between two characters, but if the account of it only appears late in the novel, I feel frustrated and ultimately lose interest. The relationship between two characters in 『ファーストラヴ』is presented to the reader in this manner, which I found irritating.

As a result of the characters lacking depth, the parts of the novel that were not about the case were very boring to me. I just did not care about the characters. Even the murder case, which was interesting in itself, suffered a little from the character of Kanna, who I did not find interesting either.

When I read crime fiction, I never expect the characters to have a deep or complex personality or to be allotted long descriptions. I am easily satisfied with credible characters and a good plot. But in 『ファーストラヴ』, I really felt that something was missing.

Another thing that I did not like in the novel is the way different scenes succeed one another without anything binding them together. It looks like nothing happened between two scenes. I mean, just a sentence is enough to link two separate events or even just localise events in time. In 『ファーストラヴ』, it was sometimes hard to tell when a scene took place. Was it the day after the previous part? several days after? what had happened in between? Some scenes that were not directly related to the case felt pointless and unconnected to me, they come out of nowhere and lead nowhere. I found this particularly annoying, and I thought several times of putting the book aside for good.

I have watched the trailer of the NHK drama, but it did not make me want to watch it. However, I will keep an eye on the film adaptation. As I said, the plot was good, so I think that it could be great on screen.

Maybe I was expecting too much from this novel because it won the Naoki Prize…? I am someone who is very easy to satisfy when it comes to crime fiction. I love mystery novels so much, that even if the end is not so good, even if I see flaws here and there, even if some events are not credible, as long as it is entertaining I consider that the novel has done its job. If I had fun reading a mystery novel, I will write an overall positive review and just mention the things that I did not like. But I did not even enjoy reading 『ファーストラヴ』at all.