I have finished reading 「イノセント・デイズ」by 早見和真（はやみ・かずまさ） and loved this novel very much. I found the story interesting, I like the themes encompassed in it, and I appreciated the structure of the novel very much.
Some themes of the novel
The novel starts with what we call in French a “fait divers” (tragic events like criminal cases that don’t concern politics or international matters). Right from the beginning, the reader is given a position: we belong to the public, we read the news, we nod at what reporters and judges have to say, we attend the trial discretely and rejoice ourselves to be reading such an exciting novel.
Or at least, this is how I felt that the novel positioned me. A feeling even more strongly felt because I often read similar events in the news on NHK, whereas the French news portal I usually read rarely reports these “faits divers”. On NHK News, on the contrary, there are a lot of criminal cases that echo our novel, and I started reading the novel and the news on NHK almost at the same time.
At some point in the story, the criminal event that kindles people’s morbid curiosity becomes a tragedy involving characters who feel real. The reader gets involved too, though I had the feeling that we never get very close to the characters, that we are to stay in our position of the external observer as if I had never left the court gallery where it placed me at the beginning. It is seldom, I think, to read a novel that brings you to question yourself: am I thinking wrong? Or am I even entitled to make my opinion and judge?
The other theme that crosses the whole novel is the death penalty. It strikes me because I have come across an article by the Guardian saying that Japan would maybe execute 13 people. This article took me off-guard because I had forgotten (or just didn’t think of it) that death penalty exists and is still widely supported in Japan. Strange coincidence, some days ago, Amnesty International accused Japan of breaching international rules concerning the application of death penalty. In this article by Mainichi, we learn that 80% of the population favours the death penalty.
Even if the capital punishment is a theme of our novel, I don’t think that we can describe it as a plaidoyer against it. The novel has its own story to tell, and the reader is left alone to decide how he or she will deal with the ending.
The novel’s structure and Japanese level
I appreciated the structure of the novel very much. Each chapter is told by a different character. One after another, they will tell us more about the protagonist Yukino, recall episodes that marked their lives and hers. In the beginning, I felt like a journalist collecting data to try to know more about Yukino, the accused, but I soon felt involved in the life of all the characters we get to know. This is where the book really shows its quality. Even though we are to listen to several different narratives, the main story is never far, and we always get closer to the truth. However, the different stories we hear are not just a pretext to work towards an upper goal, they are gripping in themselves.
Concerning the Japanese level, I would say that the second half of the novel was very challenging for me. I think that it comes from the vocabulary. Whereas the beginning focuses on daily life aspects of Yukino, the end is filled with court relative words. The novel is divided into two parts: 事件前夜 and 判決以後. Maybe it is just me, but I felt a distinct difference between the two, the second one being much more difficult than the first one.
In a word…
This book has all the qualities of a page-turner, but while I was engrossed in the story, I also felt that I was walking a path of sadness and unbearable nostalgia.
An extract from the beginning. I don’t need to give context, because it is the very beggining of the prologue (p11-12)
Reference: 「イノセント・デイズ」by 早見和真（はやみ・かずまさ）, published by 新潮文庫・しんちょうぶんこ.