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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Minato Kanae

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To purchase Confessions

Title: Confessions
Author: Minato Kanae
Genre: Novel
Written: 2008 (Eng. 2014)
Length: 234 pages
Original in: Japanese
Availability: Confessions - US
Confessions - UK
Confessions - Canada
Confessions - India
Geständnisse - Deutschland
Confessions - Italia
  • Japanese title: 告白
  • Translated by Stephen Snyder
  • Confessions was made into a film in 2010, directed by Nakashima Tetsuya

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Our Assessment:

B- : effectively disturbing, but can't quite fulfil promise of its clever design

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The LA Times . 8/8/2014 Steph Cha
New Republic . 6/8/2014 Becca Rothfeld
Wall St. Journal . 15/8/2014 Tom Nolan
World Lit. Today . 5-6/2015 Erik R. Lofgren

  From the Reviews:
  • "(T)he most delightfully evil book you will read this year. (...) Like any complex revenge tale, Confessions comes with a healthy dose of moral ambiguity. Yuko is positioned as the hero, but as the plot unfolds, taking turn after sickening turn, her actions start looking maniacal, disproportionate, perhaps out-and-out unforgivable. (...) Minato spins out this gut-wrenching thrill ride with clean, high-impact language and a structure that allows for several points of view." - Steph Cha, The Los Angeles Times

  • "Reading Confessions makes one wonder about the inextricability of the extremes it conflates—brutality and eroticism, the pangs of anger and the pangs of arousal, a loving embrace and a lethal one. Locked in the tightest embrace of all are our twin condemnation and enjoyment. This is a romance we don’t dare to interrogate as we read on in horror, guilty and intrigued, repulsed and maybe just a little exhilarated." - Becca Rothfeld, New Republic

  • "A reader is almost certain to be caught off guard more than once by the revelations of this award-winning best seller (translated from the Japanese), which presents its plot through a half-dozen different points of view." - Tom Nolan, Wall Street Journal

  • "Many accept it as a truism that Japan is a country in which morality is situationally determined, and the stereotype does, of course, reflect one aspect of the culture; however, the degree to which Minato extends this logic in service of her story might leave the faint of heart breathless. Nevertheless, the narrative succeeds well in conveying the troubling shades of morality at play in the novel. Indeed, the only disappointment is the rather neatly rushed ending." - Erik R. Lofgren, World Literature Today

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:

       Confessions is presented in six parts, in each of which a different character recounts events that affect them all (the first and last sections have the same narrator, and in another the 'confession' -- a mother's diary -- is nested in a section narrated by her daughter). The sections move the story forward, even as each character in turn also revisits the past, offering their own account of some of the events that look very different to some of these eyes. The tragedy that is at the heart of the novel is the death of a four-year-old girl, Manami, the daughter of middle-school-teacher and single mother Yūki Moriguchi (and one of the things about the novel that can be hard to take is that the child's death is described repeatedly; the variations don't make it any more tolerable).
       The novel opens with Moriguchi announcing to her class that she is retiring from teaching. She reveals that the tragic death of her child was not an accident, as has been widely believed, but murder -- and that the child was: "murdered by some of the students in this very class." Referring to them only as A and B -- but in such detail that obviously their classmates can easily identify them -- she describes what they did. She also explains why she hasn't gone to the police with all this information: as minors they would face practically no punishment. Instead, she has something else in mind for them, and she leaves the class by revealing what that cruel parting shot was (though it is, in fact, a rather far-fetched idea).
       The next section continues the story in the new school year. Narrated by Mizuki, a classmate of the two murderers -- now also identified by name as Naoki and Shūya -- it finds a new teacher in charge, nicknamed Werther (a buffoon who somehow manages not to learn that he has two murderers in his class -- gossip that surely would be hard to miss in a school-environment). Naoki doesn't show up for school any more, while Shūya gets bullied by the other students (before finally reasserting himself). Throughout, Werther, who visits Naoki's house regularly with Mizuki, in the hopes of trying to convince him to return to class, is blind to pretty much everything around him.
       The next section is an account by Naoki's sister, relying also extensively on their mother's diary entries -- in which the mother proves herself entirely deluded about her son, and refuses to see him as having done anything wrong, despite knowing of his role in the death of Manami. The fourth section is Naoki's own account, while the fifth -- framed as a 'Last Will and Testament' -- is by Shūya, the mastermind behind the death of Manami, who now has something bigger in mind. (The final words and actions, however, are Moriguchi's.)
       Along the way we learn more about the different players, and the motives and reasoning behind some of their actions. In particular, the backgrounds and life-experiences of friendless Naoki and gifted Shūya shed more light on why they did the things they did. Minato has some decent ideas here, though the kids' depravity is still a bit hard to credit (as are some of the details along the way).
       Confessions is at its best at the student-level. True, much of it reads like a novel conceived and written by an eighth-grader, but then they are the central characters here and while not everything that goes through their minds -- or that they put into practice -- is plausible, at least it feels reasonably age-appropriate. The depiction of the classroom-society and how it functions also seems to have enough elements of truth to it. The adults, on the other hand, are too cartoonish in their obliviousness, from absent fathers (absent from the narrative, too) who fail to notice anything, to driven mothers who mis-treat (in very differing ways) their kids entirely -- most notably Naoki and Shūya's mothers. Werther is presented as a complete fool, but even Moriguchi is kind of batty. And this is also the kind of story in which a student can be killed, stuffed in a freezer -- and no one even seems to realize they've been missing for a week (or has looked in the freezer ...).
       Misunderstandings and an inability to convey feelings and desires abound -- reflecting adolescent confusion, but also taking it to rather great extremes. Both Naoki and Shūya have communication issues, failing to make some of their main concerns clear to those in a position to help them; arguably, quite a lot that happened was easily preventable. But Minato portrays a society that is so messed up that tragedy on this scale seems inevitable. Everything here is dysfunctional. None of the narrators' families are 'whole' in any meaningful sense, which Minato seems to suggest is part of the problem, but interactions both at school and outside it suggest an entire society in complete disarray.
       Too often heavy-handed, and with rather too many implausible elements, Minato undermines the clever ideas in Confessions. It also falls short as morality play: battering readers over the head repeatedly with the death of the four-year-old child, none of the ways she spins it makes it in any way better or deepens our understanding of what could drive anyone to such an act: it remains simple, ugly murder.
       Not quite satisfying as revenge-play, either, Confessions is built up intriguingly enough to keep readers interested, but with its many frustrating elements it does fall rather flat.

- M.A.Orthofer, 22 September 2014

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Confessions: Reviews: Confessions - the film: Other books by Minato Kanae under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Japanese author Minato Kanae (湊かなえ) was born in 1973.

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© 2014-2021 the complete review

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