SinC25: Miyuke Miyabe, #5 post of “moderate” challenge

Having completed the Sisters in Crime book bloggers’ easy challenge, I am now embarking on the next step, the:

Moderate challenge: write five blog posts about works of crime fiction by women authors. For each, mention another woman author who writes in a similar vein.

For my final post in this part of the challenge, I’ve chosen Miyuke Miyabe, a Japanese author. One of the pleasures of reading crime fiction is its window it provides into countries I’ve never visited and may never visit. The two books I’ve read by Miyabe show the frustrations and desperation of ordinary people, whose dilemmas are the same yet different from those in a similar vein experienced in the UK, and where society has rather different strictures and freedoms compared with those with which I’m familiar.

All She Was Worth concerns a missing young woman, and the search for her conducted by a retired detective and widower. I wrote in my review that the book is “strongly critical social comment of the personal and family devastation caused by the uncontrolled rise in consumer spending and credit of the 1960s, when regulations in Japan were relaxed. For me, this book ticks all the boxes – I learned a lot about attitudes and the ways of life of people in Japan, and about the country, as well as thoroughly enjoying the strong if tragic plot, the social commentary (occasionally digressive but I didn’t mind), and the combination of toughness and humanity that characterise the best crime novels. The title is also apt, as becomes apparent.”

Shadow Family is the other book by this author that I’ve read. On the surface it’s the story of a murder investigation, but a clue to its real subject matter is given by its original title, R.P.G. (role-playing game). First published in 2001, it is an early-ish fable (but far from a sentimental one!) about the depths to which “games” can allow people to plunge. Such games have been more popular in Japan than in most or all other places, and the author here explores, in a metaphorical way, the reasons why – the events described in the novel being as illusory as the game some of the characters are playing. I wrote in my review that the author wants her readers “to experience the psychological stresses of living in a rule-bound, stratified society that makes very high academic demands of its children and that allows little room for the individual to control his or her own life, so some rather awful directions are taken (by one character in particular) in an attempt to break out. Shadow Family is an intriguing and thought-provoking novel – not a warm book or one that fits into any clear definition, but one that leaves an uneasy impression in the mind after its edgy, hallucinatory account is over.”

I haven’t yet read any more novels by this author – she has written a very large number of them (a list is at Wikipedia), but it seems that only seven (including the two mentioned here) have been translated into English. One of the best known of these is Crossfire, about a young woman with psychokinetic powers which has both been made into a film and a mobile-phone manga animation (anime) – I’m not sure if I’ll read it. As well as writing crime novels, Miyabe writes science fiction, historical fiction and books for young adults and children. There is more about the English-language translations of her books at the Simon&Schuster website.

Now I have to think of another woman author who writes similar books! Well, that’s a tall order but I’m going to go a bit left-field and suggest that Dominique Manotti is relatively similar, in her hard-hitting novels that seem to be set in a parallel France where the rules are different to those most people live by or say they live by (Rough Trade and Affairs of State). There are many obvious differences between the two authors, of course, but I think they are both in the same place when it comes to exposing a structured society’s hypocrisies by sometimes rather extreme allegories and actions.

The Sisters in Crime book bloggers’ challenge (SinC25) (At the blog of Barbara Fister, the originator).
All Barbara’s posts and round-ups of contributions to the SinC25 challenge.
All my contributions to this challenge.

9 thoughts on “SinC25: Miyuke Miyabe, #5 post of “moderate” challenge

  1. Maxine – Thanks for this excellent overview of Miyuke Miyabe’s work. Like you, I especially enjoy novels that not only tell a good story but also give me a look at the way other people live and think. Weaving social commentary into the plots in an effective way takes a lot of talent, and it sounds as though you’ve chosen a writer who can do all of those things. Definitely one for my ever-increasing TBR list..

  2. I liked For All She Was Worth and Shadow Family, the former title a bit more. The book plots are unusual, too, which make for an interesting read. And they do provide a look into Japanese society and give some social commentary.
    I’m not sure I see the comparison to Dominique Manotti. Although I saw the blatant violation of laws and social mores of some characters in Affairs of State, it wasn’t an easy book to follow — in my view, anyway. It was incredibly fast-paced and action-packed.
    However, any book that educates about social conditions and gives political commentary adds to my knowledge, and I appreciated learning more about Japanese mores and social roles.
    I didn’t know that seven of Miyabe’s books have been translated, but I don’t think I’ll read Crossfire. Psychokinetic powers nor science fiction are what I look for in my reading. But I will look at her list of books.

    • I agree there are obvious differences between the two authors. Rough Trade was about a “closed” industry and “closed” region (immigrant) of Paris, each with their own rules – I felt that this, together with some of the rules of the upper elite in Affairs of State (that were obscure to the police detective, also an immigrant) had some similarity to Miyabe’s alienation scenarios. If there is a better author (female) to compare, I have not thought of her (yet!).

  3. Just saw FF’s announcements on award winners. I am so glad Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter won. It’s been nominated for many awards, but hasn’t won. It’s an excellent book with an involved mystery, but it’s a novel of the U.S. South, which has good character development; it gives a slice of the human condition, tells about friendship. I liked it, passed it to a friend who loved it, her father loved it, another friend loved it.
    I just hope Tom Franklin writes more books.

    • CLCL received brilliant reviews when it came out in the USA, so I really must make an effort to read it, Kathy, thanks for recommending it.

  4. Frankly, I cried reading this book as it’s poignant in some parts. Franklin understands human feelings quite well.

  5. I just thought of this book and wondered if you’d read it. It’s Out by Natsuo Kirino. That book describes social conditions in Japan as it goes into the lives of four women who are friends. It shows the alienation and tough conditions for employees who work on an assembly line, and some tough situations for women who must take care of elderly relatives as there is no alternative. It also is a mystery, has a strong crime component. This is a riveting and good book. I couldn’t put it down. It won awards in Japan and was highly praised, but not by all.
    My only problem with it is violence against women, which is part of the plot line. Although I shy away from this and did have to skip some paragraphs, the book is otherwise quite interesting.
    However, it’s controversial there. Women’s rights advocates there were upset by the violence. I understand their reaction.
    I had a problem with the ending for reasons which I won’t discuss due to spoiler avoidance, but it’s very tough and angered me. I was surprised that a woman wrote this ending, but then again women writers do write in many ways.
    It’s controversial. That’s what I can say.

    • Hi Kathy, I did buy this book once but I changed my mind about reading it after I read a couple of reviews. I have “rehomed” it now.

  6. Pingback: SinC25: Progress so far and preparing for the ascent | Petrona

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