This review is part of our Love Yourshelf Goodreads bookclub and our ongoing Book Reviews project.
Author: Kanae Minato
Translated from Japanese into English by Stephen Snyder
Kanae Minato’s Confessions is a book best read by going in blind. Told in alternating perspectives, Confessions tells the story of a middle-school teacher who loses her reason to live after it is stolen by two of her students. Kanae Minato, the queen of iyamisu, or Japanese mystery, had a career as a home economics teacher before she turned to writing later in life, and Minato certainly has an ability to capture the discomfort and uncertainty of adolescence. A brief and biting novel, Confessions is a rare thriller that’s able to capture the reverberations of one crime throughout an entire community.
Confessions begins in the perspective of Yuko Moriguchi, a once inspired, but now jaded middle-school teacher as she gives a long-winded lecture on the last day of class before her premature retirement. She shares with her opinions about the Japanese education system, the conflicting opinions of her husband, and her criticisms of the cruelty of middle-schoolers. The students at first remain rowdy and wait for the bell to ring until Moriguchi makes an announcement: her four-year-old daughter has recently been drowned, and she knows which two students in the classroom are to blame. Moriguchi refuses to name the culprits or approach law enforcement, instead leaving their judgment in their peers’ hands.
After the first chapter, Confessions keeps alternating between perspectives. It slowly reveals the truth behind the murder of Moriguchi’s daughter, as well as the psychological damage that the peers of the culprits have undergone. Minato’s writing perfectly captures the strife, gullibility, and group-think mindset of her adolescent cast, fixating on the horror and confusion of that age. Minato rivetingly sprints through the stories of the two culprits, their love interests, and their parents, showing how deeply one act of violence truly reaches.
Minato’s gift as a writer is her ability to craft unique voices for each character that she portrays. As the title conveys, these interior moments are confessions, and while they read forwardly and unpoetically, they do manage to portray rich interior worlds and motives. Reading each perspective beside one other reveals how the nature of a communal society can ostracize and accidentally radicalize those who don’t fit in. These students, unsure of their future, are burdened and liberated by this freedom, and ultimately use it for evil.
Kanae Minato’s Confessions is not a work for the faint of heart, but if you’re a reader that wants a thriller that truly taps into the psyche of adolescents, it’s an unforgettable read. Minato has a gift for writing prose that is cutting and allows you to inhabit the minds of genuinely twisted characters. While the ending of Confessions is a bit bombastic, Minato’s writing is airtight, revelatory, and genuinely surprising all throughout.