When a Tokyo university student hangs herself in a remote forest, three devastated friends seek to understand why.
Reluctantly attending a group blind date, Waseda University student Ryusei Yanagi is immediately attracted to Miwako Sumida, whose “serious expression behind a pair of old-fashioned thick-rimmed glasses” and blunt manner are at odds with her prettier and flirtier girlfriends. “She seemed sensible,” Ryu thinks. As they bond while browsing in an English-language bookshop and reading together in the library, Ryu falls in love with Miwako, sensing a softness and compassion behind her hard exterior, but she refuses to date him. Fumi, Ryu’s transgender sister, is also intrigued by the stubborn and standoffish girl, whom she hires as a painting assistant for her studio. Eight months later, Miwako is dead, and a grieving Ryusei travels with Miwako’s close friend Chie Ohno to Kitsuyama, a mountain village where Miwako spent her final days, to find answers. Meanwhile, in Tokyo, Fumi receives an unexpected visitor who might hold a clue to Miwako’s suicide. Set in the same moodily atmospheric Japanese world as her acclaimed debut novel, Rainbirds (2018), Indonesian-born Singaporean writer Goenawan explores via the perspectives of Ryu, Fumi, and Chie how a carefully crafted facade of hardened perfection can crumble under the weight of painful secrets and shame, leading to tragedy. Although the nature of Miwako’s hidden past becomes apparent early on, she is such a compelling protagonist that the reader doesn’t mind the obviousness. Like Japanese brush painting, the author’s simple, clear prose captures Miwako's vulnerability and complexity. Also vividly drawn are Fumi and Chie, each having built their own unusual protective personas that are gradually revealed.
An eerie and elegant puzzle.