Book Review: 『往復書簡』by Kanae Minato

往復書簡 (おうふくしょかん)
Title: 往復書簡 (おうふくしょかん)
Genre:
First published: 2010
Published: 2012
Format: Bunko
Page Count: 325
高校教師の敦史は、小学校時代の恩師の依頼で、彼女のかつての教え子六人に会いに行く。六人と先生は二十年前の不幸な事故で繋がっていた。それぞれの空白を手紙で報告する敦史だったが、六人目となかなか会う事ができない(「二十年後の宿題」)。過去の「事件」の真相が、手紙のやりとりで明かされる。感動と驚きに満ちた、書簡形式の連作ミステリ。

『往復書簡』(おうふくしょかん) is a collection of four epistolary short stories by Kanae Minato (湊かなえ) published by 幻冬舎文庫 (げんとうしゃぶんこ).

A journey to the past

With the exception of the fourth story, which is very short and a little different than the others, the three main short stories all follow a similar pattern: several people who share a common past or have a connection with it will start exchanging letters. In each story, there is a particular event that lies in the past, altered by the years, the incomplete memories and the things unsaid. The protagonists will unveil this past mystery and search for the truth.

I found this format very original and interesting. The stories show how a same event can be experienced and remembered completely differently by the person who where involved at the time. You cannot help but reflect about your own past. It is a little scary to think that your friends might have a completely different recollection or experience of some shared events.

In the end, what really happened matters less than the way people experienced it, because their interpretation of the past makes them what they are now, it forges their personality and can influence their choice. I find that Kanae MINATO depicts this perfectly.

Epistolary genre to dig the past?

I like epistolary novels, but I couldn’t help wondering if it is the best genre to dig into the past.

I am not an expert, but I feel that the epistolary genre is perfect when two persons who used to know each other are separated and talk about their own present life in their letters. In the opposite direction, two persons who don’t know each other can start a correspondence and each one talks about his or her own past.

The problem when people talk about a shared past through letters is that they will have to say things like “At that moment I said… then you replied… then I did… and you remarked that…” for the sake of the reader. I found this a little unnatural. Also, in the second story, one of the correspondent transcribes whole interviews in his letters. He would say “I will transcribe my interview with … :” and then the story reads like a novel, not like a letter. 

Another thing that bothered me a little is that the reason why the protagonists start writing letters is a little far-fetched. It is not something people would do in real life, I think. 

All in all, I loved the stories, but I am not convinced by the choice of the epistolary genre.

Conclusion

In spite of these negative points, I enjoyed reading the book because I love mysteries and I love when the past is not what we thought it was. But the pattern of each story is a little repetitive and while I loved the first story, liked the second one, I felt a little bored when I read the third one and couldn’t feel involved in the story. This is why I would recommend to read each story at different time, instead of all in a row. 

Other books by this author:
豆の上で眠る(まめのうえでねむる)
リバース
告白 (こくはく)
Cover of 白ゆき姫殺人事件. The drawing on the cover shows a woman lying on the ground, eyes closed, certainly dead, facing the camera. Around her, we see the feet of all the onlookers, some are taking pictures with their phone.