Set in a future where contact with other humans is minimal and every single move you make is monitored and recorded by ever present computer terminals, three young girls find themselves caught up in a series of murders. Hazuki Makino, an incredibly shy young school girl; Ayumi Kono, the quiet strong one and Mio Tsuzuki, an eccentric prodigy. As the three girls attempt to unravel the mystery behind a recent series of murders, so too do two adults. Shizue, counselor to the girls and Kunugi, an aging police officer. From Natsuhiko Kyogku comes Loups-Garous.
This is one weird novel. The future it presents us with is a nightmare of political correctness run rampant compounded by the ever present eyes of the government ala “big brother” and the ubiquity of computer terminals. Terms such as abnormal psychology are considered offensive and discriminatory. Interaction between humans has dwindled to such a degree that it’s not uncommon for children to barely see their parents. Classes are needed to try an teach children how to interact in a face to face environment and more. It’s all quite twisted and disturbing. Everyone in it seems guilty of over thinking things to an insane degree. Artificial meat and food products have been created to avoid cruelty to animals, but there are still people fighting for the rights of microbes and objecting to the use of sterilizing sprays and washes.
I’m very conflicted over this book. I enjoyed the world building and the idea of a utopia run amuck, but at the same time it often felt like it came at the expense of the plot which moved at a snails pace for most of the book. There are endless reams of expository dialogue which are a bit of a slog to get through during which the plot grinds to a near stop. There were literally moments where the dialogue and exposition about the world and it’s history was so thick and heavy that I almost forgot about the murder mystery hook. It goes on like this for most of the story while tossing out the odd red herrings every now and then until the last one hundred pages or so. While I did find the expository dialogue awkward and clunky at times, I can’t deny that it does a fantastic job at creating an interesting, vivid and rather unnerving picture of the future. Also, on more than one occasion I found the characters to be so alien in their thinking with their inability to empathize and bizarre attempts at rationalizing apathy that it was a little difficult to connect and care about them. Kunugi and Mio Tsuzuki were the two that I find most compelling. Kunugi because he was raised in times closer to ours and his mindset was a bit more relatable, and Mio because she was off the wall goofy and brilliant that it was hard not to enjoy reading about her antics. I did find myself warming towards Shizue and Ayumi Kono in the later chapters though.
The translation read alright for the most part but there were some awkward and odd moments spread throughout book. Sentences that didn’t feel like full sentences and sentences receiving line breaks and being treated as full paragraphs dot the text. There’s a slightly awkward and stilted feel to it as well, though in fairness I seem to recall Summer of the Ubume having a similar odd flow and rhythm as well so it might just be something inherent in Natsuhiko Kyogoku’s style when it’s translated to English. That said, I didn’t find it quite as noticeable the first time around, so make of that what you will.
In the end Loups-Garous didn’t really grab me. I wasn’t terribly intrigued with any of the characters and the incredibly slow plot made it difficult to really get into it. Despite that I was glad to be able to read something else from Natsuhiko Kyogoku and would still be willing to give another work of his a look should something else make it’s way to the US. Also, the criticisms within it aimed at such things as the slow death of socialization, the reliance on computers and the growing fondness of digital and virtual interaction, not to mention the concept of a police state with 24/7 monitoring of every citizen and how such a thing could be abused are all pertinent and relevant issues that helped give it a bit of meat despite my issues with it.
Loups-Garous is available now from Haikasoru.