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Book review: 『首折り男のための協奏曲』by Kotaro ISAKA

About the book

Title: 『首折り男のための協奏曲』(くびおり おとこ の ための きょうそうきょく)
Author: Kotaro ISAKA 伊坂幸太郎
Published by 新潮文庫

『首折り男のための協奏曲』is a collection of short stories that Kotaro ISAKA wrote for different magazines. But even though the stories were written as independent stories, put together in the same book, they resonate with one another and create a “謎の工芸品” (mysterious craftwork), as the author says himself (p.429).

Review

The author writes at the end of the book that all the stories of 『首折り男のための協奏曲』were written independently for different magazines. He said he had to answer to prompts like “恋愛ものを” or “怪談話を” which explains why the stories are so different in structure. While he hadn’t thought of putting all these stories together in the same book at first, he was surprised to see how strangely well they resonate together once the project of『首折り男のための協奏曲』was settled.

I think that this is exactly how the reader must read this book: these are short stories, but put together, they gain an additional dimension.

The problem is that nothing on the book indicates that they are short stories, and the summary on the back cover even makes you think that you are reading a novel and that everything will come together in the end.

Because of that, I was looking for clues that could not be there. I was trying to understand how this could be the same story, and given that some characters return from story to story, it took me some time before I realise that I was not reading a novel.

When I realised it, I was a little disappointed, but I could also fully appreciate what I was reading without constantly thinking “but this does not make sense”.

As for the stories in themselves, they were all very good, some were particularly engrossing (首折り男の周辺、合コンの話), some I found really brilliant (漏れ衣の話、人間らしく).

Not all, but almost all of them have a hidden trick in them. As a result, there is always this moment when, understanding that hidden mechanism, I was baffled by the author’s talent. But on the other hand, this made the stories a little difficult to read in Japanese! My favourite story is 月曜日から逃げろ but it took me some time before I understood the hidden trick. I was re-reading several times the same passages because something didn’t make sense, and I was thinking that my Japanese level was at fault.

This is the first book I read by Kotaro ISAKA, and I am now wondering if all his books are so inventive. I am a little irritated at the publisher who makes you think that it is a novel and that everything will come together at the end in a surprising way. I feel that it spoiled my reading and appreciation of this book with useless expectations. If I had read these stories as independent short stories from the beginning, I would have enjoyed them better.

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