A kind of darkly comic Asian version of Midnight Express, as second-novelist Kneale (the Whitbread-winning English Passengers, 2000) describes a young Englishman trapped in Japan.
Daniel Thayne is your typical middle-class dropout. Shortly after leaving university, Dan decides to chuck England altogether, and eventually ends up in Japan. There, he finds work teaching English at the Vital School, a storefront operation patronized mainly by bored housewives and unmarried girls looking for foreign husbands. The wages are lousy, the students difficult, and Daniel is never paid on time. Why does he stay? Well, he’s lost his passport, for one thing. And he’s started going out with one of his students, for another. His girlfriend Keiko is pouty and immature, fond of Mickey Mouse and stuffed animals, but she’s cute and devoted to Daniel in a shy kind of way. Daniel, for his part, is far from being in love with Keiko, but he has few friends in Tokyo and depends upon her company. When she tells him she’s pregnant, he is shocked but agrees to do the right thing and marry her. Still, he begins to express reluctance when Keiko’s father sets up a wedding on a week’s notice. He becomes even more suspicious when Keiko’s family keeps him virtually locked up in their house in anticipation of the happy day. And he begins to panic outright when it becomes obvious that the family business involves shabby hotels in the bad part of town. It’s one thing to break an engagement—and another to walk out on a mobster’s daughter. Especially when you have no passport, your own parents don’t know where you are, and you don’t have a yen to your name.
Witty, fast-paced fun: a great story (already winner of the Somerset Maugham Prize) that keeps the tempo up and doesn’t take itself too seriously. Kneale is out of the gate running.