Author: Ryū Murakami
Genre: Fiction, contemporary, psychological thriller
Where I got the book: I purchased this book through Bokkilden.
My rating: ★★★☆☆
Summary: Documentary-maker Aoyama lives with his teenage son Shige and dreams of remarrying, even though he hasn’t dated anyone since the death of his wife Ryoko seven years ago. Aoyama’s best friend Yoshikawa comes up with the idea of holding fake auditions for a film, with the real purpose of Aoyama finding his future wife. Out of all the women who apply is Yamasaki Asami – a young, beautiful, modest girl who used to train to become a ballerina until an accident cut her dream short. Aoyama only has eyes for her and they end up going on several dates. Despite finding out about Asami’s troubled past, Aoyama is blinded by infatuation and also ignores Yoshikawa’s warning that something’s not quite right about her. He sees only the perfect woman until the terrifying truth slowly creeps up on him.
“I can’t read her exactly, but I can tell you she’s either a saint or a monster. Maybe both extremes at once, but not somewhere in between.”
– Audition, Ryū Murakami
This is my second Ryū Murakami book after “In the Miso Soup” (you can read my review of it on my Instagram here). Just like “In the Miso Soup”, this story is built using a slow, creeping pace while it feeds the reader subtle bits and pieces of unsettling information.
It had a bit of a slow start but once I got over that bump I found myself quickly turning the pages. I wouldn’t say it’s a page-turner because everything happens at a breakneck speed – it doesn’t – but it’s just that you pick up on a few subtle cues in the beginning and you wonder how much of a relevance they have and you simply end up wanting to see when it all escalates. In other words, if you’re looking for a fast-paced thriller with something happening on every page then this probably isn’t for you. “In the Miso Soup” escalated completely out of the blue and while that wasn’t a bad thing at all I was nowhere near prepared for it. “Audition” kind of follows the same recipe but in my opinion to a lesser degree, even though the events towards the end are quite disturbing and gory all the same.
This is not a very long novel so you can easily finish it in one or two sittings. The dialogue might come off as a bit stilted but the writing itself is smooth, although somewhat basic. Of course I don’t know whether this is because of the translation or not. However, at times I did find myself sucked in by the prose; there’s something about it that so casually and innocently hides something far darker and disturbing. Personally I think a slow-build thriller like this is generally extremely unsettling, and it’s because you know there’s something more to it that it doesn’t take more than – say – a momentary change in a voice over the phone for you to find it creepy.
That being said, I thought it ended rather quickly and a bit rushed, considering how long it took for the novel to build up the tension – and keep in mind that it’s not a long book, just roughly 200 pages. This could have been intentional, I don’t know. I also somehow had a hard time sympathizing with Aoyama’s character. I can’t quite put my finger on why as I did find him fairly well-rounded at the same time. Asami on the other hand could have done with way more development, and there were times when I felt she was more a filler than a main. I wanted more of her background, more of the whys and whens from her past, just more of a reveal concerning the reason for her becoming a disturbed monster. There were also a couple of events that happened early on in the book that I hoped we’d get back to, but we didn’t get an explanation of these.
Overall however this was an entertaining read for me and I do want to continue reading more of Ryū Murakami’s work. This book is also basis for a Japanese cult film classic, and I really want to check this one out now that I’ve read the book to see how they compare.