Book review:『孤独の罠』

Title: 孤独の罠(こどくのわな)
First published: 1963
Page Count: 296
Shinobu Oogi returns to his deceased wife’s family home near Shibukawa to bury his six-month old son, who just passed away. Now that both his son and wife are dead, Shinobu does not feel attached to this family anymore and goes back to Tokyo, but his sister Kanae works in Shibukawa, and unexpected events will call Shinobu back in the region.

I find that some of Jokichi Hikage’s books feel like a blend of literary fiction and mystery, but 孤独の罠 leans more on the side of literary fiction. The story is mainly focused on our protagonist, Shinobu Oogi, and while it starts with an unsettling mystery, it is not central to the book, and the complex character of Shinobu is really what makes this book shine.

With several deaths occurring at the beginning of the novel, Shinobu’s ties to others are slowly cut off. He feels like a stranger in his wife’s family and his sister remains his only blood relative. However, his attachment to her and his concern to her well-being is not as genuine as people think. His relationship with his mother, his attraction for the beautiful wife of the local post owner, and the burden of unspoken desires and shameful memories will make Shinobu fall into the trap of self-deception, disguising his selfish desires into acts of concern and care.

When murder occurs, the novel borrows elements from the mystery genre, but it’s more interesting to see how our protagonist reacts to the murder than solving it. The investigation and solution are not bad, but there is also nothing really exciting about them.

Shinobu’s sister, Kanae, could have been the protagonist if this book was a mystery novel. She tries to live her own life, she is fighting for justice and for love, does not care about social conventions and follows her own choices. But we see the story from Shinobu’ point of view instead, and we have to deal with his contradictions and psychological burden, which makes the book quite a heavy read.