Confessions by Kanae Minato

by Kristopher Cook
Confessions by Kanae Minato - Book Review - Kristopher Cook

Confessions delves into the dark recesses of the developing minds of teenagers. What’s inside? A world which is genuinely terrifying.

On par with the work of renowned Japanese author Keigo Higashino, this has to be one of the best thrillers I’ve read in a long time. Its style is reminiscent of Minato’s second translated book, Penance, as each chapter is afforded a second-person perspective on a particular event.

However, unlike her preceding book, Confessions delves much deeper into the pulp-gruesome atmosphere with little concern for its readers. And this is undoubtedly the main selling point.

It never shies away from the violence, even when talking about the lives of minors.

As you can guess from the title, this book centres on the premise of atoning for one’s sins. Except here, they’re all going to find atonement whether they like it or not.

The story centres on a teacher, Yuko Moriguchi whose daughter Manami is found to have drowned in the school swimming pool. On the last day of term, she decides to tell the class the truth. Manami wasn’t drowned by accident, and the culprits are members of her class.

Without naming them, but giving significant cues to whom they are, Moriguchi sets off a chain of events that will change their lives beyond recognition.

Suspense Lies in Wait

This is where Minato’s writing style comes into its own. The passing between the teachers opening thoughts, a student within her class, and then the two killers gives a well-rounded view of the situation.

Each new chapter completely changes what you thought you knew previously, which is why I was wholly engaged right up to the final sentence.

You know there’s going to be a twist, but then you’re hit with another, then another.

Each has their own motives and their own views on the situation at large. What they choose to do in these situations is entirely individual to the character.

While on the subject of the characters, they all feel like people you may have run across during your high school days. The leading killer does occasionally step into cliché motivation territory, but there’s enough substance to accommodate for it.

It’s also worth noting that Confessions is translated by the superb Stephen Snyder, who notably did the same for Natsuo Kirino’s Out.

What’s Justice Enough?

The moral dilemma of punishment is something toyed with here. Should Moriguchi report the students responsible for her young daughter’s death? Is she wrong to seek revenge on them?

Reading through the book and finding different perspectives on the main plot point, I repeatedly went back and forth between the two.

Minato’s use of the Japanese justice system plays impeccably into the core dilemma.

“I think we regular people may have forgotten a basic truth—we don’t really have the right to judge anyone else.”

Kanae Minato, Confessions

On the one hand, they should be justly punished by Moriguchi. However, the criminal system is set up for a reason, even if they’ll be trialled as minors, avoiding a harsher sentence.

Celebrity Killings

There’s also the exploits mentioned alongside the story that lead to huge tabloid coverage. These all converge on killings committed by minors, who then became mini-celebrities off the back of it. Newspapers sensationalist headlines, and high-attention coverage of these murders further solidifies the idea that anyone can become a somebody, just by killing.

The parents of wrongful children are another of the focuses for both parties.

There’s a commentary on the role of a mother, which is split into three different paths.

One, Moriguchi, who’s a single mother trying to make a living but needs to bring her daughter along to do so. Two, the overbearing mum who believes her son can do no wrong. And three; the one who abandons her family to start a new life, lying in the process.

Equally, the ending throws a complete misdirection, making you question all that you’ve just read. Which of the above affects the actions of a minor most? Likewise, Moriguchi’s motive is justified, to a degree, but how far is too far?

But don’t worry about that last issue, because Minato’s conclusion takes things way beyond the point of no return.

There are references to both Dostoyevsky and Camus, both of whom wrote novels about the deeper recesses of human behaviour. Yet it’s in Minato’s inscription that the fictional writing becomes real and tormented. Whereas here predecessors now feel outdated and long-winded, she instead goes straight to the heart of the matter.

There’s Nothing Crueller Than Children

Children are not the lovable innocent little people we often perceive them to be. They too are capable of many horrific acts of cruelty, none more so than those mentioned in Confessions.

Even now, thinking about the day to day life of a high school student, male or female, is terrifying. They often suffer the same punishments for minor or unavoidable circumstances. You don’t have the latest brand name – bullied. You aren’t good at sport – bullied. You’re not attractive in their eyes – bullied.

In fact, as Kanae Minato’s writing points out, there is nobody crueller than kids.

However, not everyone in this book is entirely cruel. Moriguchi’s dying partner points out that everyone deserves a second chance. No matter how evil, they can be reformed back into society. Whether you agree with this or not, as Moriguchi herself goes back and forth between the two, it does add an interesting dynamic.

‘Weak people find even weaker people to be their victims. And the victimized often feel that they have only two choices: put up with the pain or end their suffering in death. But they’re wrong. The world you lives in is much bigger than that. If the place in which you find yourself is too painful, I say you should be free to seek another, less painful place of refuge. There is no shame in seeking a safe place. I want you to believe that somewhere in this wide world there is a place for you, a safe haven.’

At what point does the aggressor become the victim?

“You can’t blame your crimes on someone else; they’re your own responsibility.”

Kanae Minato, Confessions

If the murderer is abused at home, are they too not a victim to their environment? Nevertheless, this doesn’t then give them the right to inflict punishment upon others. So how much sympathy and understanding should we afford them?

Feelings Towards The Writing

As you’ve probably gathered, Confessions is a book that I very much enjoyed.

The writing is clear and precise, the plot is always engaging, and there’s plenty to think about long after reading. As you read through, a new awakening is discovered, creating an ever increasingly complex scenario around which to ponder.

It’s also worth noting that Kanae Minato was a home economics teacher at the time she wrote this debut book. Her experiences around children are clearly on show here. She captures the true nature of a classroom, and the control a commanding figure, such as a teacher, has on their young lives.

The dynamics of families are similarly Japanese, with the pressures to perform well against other students often put above the individual skills and happiness of a pupil.

The style of writing, although similar in genre to Higashino, reminds me of Gillian Flynn’s unflinching compromise of human nature. Not once does it shy away, or much less apologise for its details of horror, but instead, revelling in them to create a unique read from beginning to end.

Closing Thoughts

There’s a lot going on with Kanae Minato’s unique writing style. Unflinching and gruesome, while remaining somewhat removed offers an altered perspective. By cycling through characters perspectives, the reader has the opportunity to learn their motives as each tells their version of events; before, during and after the death of Manami.

What did you think of Confessions? Is this type of read you expected when you first opened it? Let me know in the comments below. And if you liked this review, then you can subscribe for more great content using the section at the bottom of the page.

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