Confessions, a Japanese School Horror Novel
Confessions is a short horror novel translated from the Japanese. It’s got a middle school setting, so manga fans might find it of interest, particularly if they enjoy creepy, behavior-driven stories like Another or Nijigahara Holograph.
Each of the six chapters presents another viewpoint on the same set of events. We open with the teacher saying goodbye to her class on the last day of school — but instead of the usual good wishes, she announces her retirement. She’s leaving teaching, and she’s leaving the kids with a disturbing gift. She was a single mother until her only daughter died. While everyone thought the girl’s death was an accidental drowning, the teacher blames two of the boys in the class. As the chapter unfolds, she makes her case for what she’s pieced together happening and details her revenge.
The second chapter is written as a letter from the class president to their former teacher, describing how the replacement handles the class. One of the students named above is avoiding school; the other is bullied. The third chapter is by the sister of the shut-in child, who commits another crime, and reprints the diary of their over-indulgent, self-centered mother. We learn what two boys were thinking in chapters four and five. The sixth wraps things up in an even more disturbing manner.
The author, Kanae Minato, is a former teacher, and she clearly knows her setting. I sometimes found the book a bit wordy. Each chapter is effectively a monologue, and I wanted the character/author to get to the point a little faster. For instance, the teacher gives a history of her career and ruminates on the difference between treating students like buddies and treating them with respect before getting to the meat of her complaints. I suspect that’s a cultural difference, and those who enjoy translated works in part for their glimpses into other societies will appreciate the distinction.
As the book continues, Minato spins more twists, shedding new light on the characters. The questions of the nature of evil, justice, and revenge are universal. Even with my quibbles about how the story is told, the unwinding revelations, previously unexpected connections, and insight into the cruelty of human nature are captivating. (The publisher provided a digital review copy.)