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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

A Quiet Place

Matsumoto Seichō

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To purchase A Quiet Place

Title: A Quiet Place
Author: Matsumoto Seichō
Genre: Novel
Written: 1971 (Eng. 2016)
Length: 235 pages
Original in: Japanese
Availability: A Quiet Place - US
A Quiet Place - UK
A Quiet Place - Canada
Un endroit discret - France
  • Japanese title: 聞かなかった場所
  • Translated by Louise Heal Kawai

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Our Assessment:

B : solid suspense, decent character portrait

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Japan Times . 2/7/2016 Iain Maloney
Publishers Weekly A+ 20/6/2016 .
The Spectator . 2/7/2016 Jeff Noon

  From the Reviews:
  • "(T)hree-quarters into the novel, the story really picks up, but it takes a long time to get there. The faults of A Quiet Place lie with Matsumoto rather than the translator. (...) The slow pace and anaemic prose of A Quiet Place -- where key details are repeated over and over to the point of irritation -- make it a strange choice for exposing the award-winning author to an international audience." - Iain Maloney, The Japan Times

  • "(A) stellar psychological thriller (.....) His pursuit of the truth becomes all-consuming, building to a surprising and immensely satisfying resolution that flows naturally from the bookís complex characterizations." - Publishers Weekly

  • "Itís an enjoyable read until the final pages, which fizzle out somewhat. If only we could have followed our anti-hero a little further, into his final struggles. Itís easy to imagine the madness that would be revealed as his carefully constructed world caves in completely." - Jeff Noon, The Spectator

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       A Quiet Place centers on dedicated government bureaucrat Tsuneo Asai, a section chief in the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry. He is in his mid-forties, and has been successful in his career, knowing how to kowtow to the fast-track superiors that come and go in the department, and with decent prospects for advancement -- at least as far as his background will allow within the limitations of the still extremely rigid Japanese system of the early 1970s. He knows his place, and the importance of appearances -- and he craves stability. When his first wife passed away when he was thirty-four he was married again within a year, to Eiko. The novel begins, however, with Eiko's death -- a hard blow for Asai.
       Asai was away on a business trip when Eiko had a heart attack. She had had one previously, so it isn't a complete surprise, but she generally took care not to overly exert herself and Asai does have questions. It takes him a while to really look into the circumstances, but he does find it hard to explain to himself what she was doing walking on a rather steep road far from home.
       Asai was more or less satisfied with his marriage, convinced: "he and Eiko were perfectly in tune". Sure, they didn't have a very active sex life -- but Eiko didn't really seem to be into it, and given her health situation Asai was understanding, and sex wasn't such a big deal for Asai anyway ..... Looking back, however, it's pretty clear he didn't really know his wife very well. He had his role -- his job, above everything -- and she her supporting one (though disappointingly she didn't socialize as helpfully as his colleagues' wives knew to); beyond that, he left her to her own devices, and didn't ask much about what she did or how she spent her time.
       Eiko was active in a haiku-writing club -- and apparently very talented -- and Asai looks into this a bit as he can't quite let go of wondering about why his wife died the way she did. There are several secluded hotels up the street from where she died, and Asai can't help but wonder whether she was on her way to one of them, for an illicit rendezvous. Could she have been having an affair ?
       Asai can't keep himself from digging -- though for months he doesn't really get anywhere. But eventually the pieces fall into place, and Asai figures out exactly what happened. He enlists the services of a detective agency, and these provide some of the necessary background information, and suddenly it all makes sense.
       For quite a while A Quiet Place is a novel of a husband trying to make sense of his wife's death, making for a reasonably suspenseful how-did-it-happen story. But when he reconstructs events, and he has put together all the information, there's an abrupt change: what was essentially the story of a hunter -- Asai slowly gathering information and trying to make sense of it -- flips into one of Asai as the hunted.
       Asai's Achilles heel is his job and reputation, which he values above all else -- a vulnerability that leads to the threat of his complete downfall. Backing himself into a corner, Asai keeps taking actions that further complicate his situation -- right down to the irony of how the story is wrapped up.
       A Quiet Place is a bit unevenly paced, and selective about what details to focus on; among those that are essentially ignored: Asai's first wife died too -- what's that about ? Asai's increasingly desperate situation as the story winds down is quite well done, but Matsumoto could have easily reveled in it more: the use of the Japanese sense of obligation and propriety is clever, but Matsumoto could have made even more out of cornered Asai's final desperation.
       Clever in its outlines and twists, A Quiet Place somewhat awkwardly stumbles along, slogging through some details at great length while elsewhere advancing weeks or even months without much happening, even as there's much else Matsumoto could easily have filled in, making for a more substantial story. Still, it's a solid little thriller, and quite enjoyable read.

- M.A.Orthofer, 9 August 2016

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A Quiet Place: Reviews: Other books by Matsumoto Seichō under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Japanese author Matsumoto Seichō (松本清張) lived 1909 to 1992.

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© 2016-2024 the complete review

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