Confessions by Kanae Minato, translated by Stephen Snyder
Published August 19, 2014
When I read Kanae Minato’s second novel to be translated into English, Penance, this winter, I found it an engaging thriller, but one that relied too heavily on coincidence to be truly believable. Confessions bears a lot of similarities, a surprising number really, but is an altogether darker and more twisted reading experience. With first person chapters told not only from perspectives of those impacted by the crime, but also the murderers themselves, Minato constructs another compelling tale of revenge.
I was hooked pretty quickly from the first chapter, in which middle grade teacher Yuko Moriguchi announces to the class that she is retiring from teaching and then proceeds to explain that her four-year-old daughter was recently murdered by two of her students. The chapter ends with a twist so disturbing that I gasped out loud and immediately wanted to know what happened next!
With each chapter in the book, Minato switches first person narrators, moving onto a classmate and then a family member of one of the murderers before we get the perspectives of the two students. Although I didn’t find the chapters told from the murderers’ POVs to be the strongest overall, Minato cleverly maintains tension before imparting some answers about the students’ motivations for the murder and their thoughts during the aftermath.
Although to a certain extent I expect books by an author to have stylistic and maybe even plot similarities, I was surprised by just how similar Minato’s novels are. Both deal with the aftermath of a child’s death on school property and the mother’s desire for revenge. Both are told through multiple perspectives and focus on the consequences of an action, and both stories shock with their twists and turns. In this case I found Penance and Confessions differed enough to keep me interested (and I actually preferred Confessions, finding it to be a tighter and more believable book), but I wonder how often Minato can repeat this formula before it grows tired.