Book review: 『満願』 by Honobu Yonezawa

Introduction

Cover of 満願

Title: 『満願』  (まんがん)
Author: Honobu Yonezawa (米澤穂信)
Published by 新潮文庫
422 pages

This is a collection of short stories that got the first place in three different rankings for mystery novels: 週刊文春ミステリーベスト10, このミステリーがすごい!and ミステリが読みたい

Review

Great mysteries

The short stories in this book are really great, and they all have a surprising ending.

When it comes to mystery fiction, I prefer when there is a tension building up throughout the story, and I don’t mind that much if the end is not that great, as long as the whole story was suspenseful.

The short stories in 『満願』 are the opposite. Some are rather slow-paced and focus more on the characters involved in the case than the case itself. And while the end is always good and surprising, some stories felt a bit long to me.

This is true for the first short story, 夜警 (やけい) for example. I did not love it at first because it did not feel like reading a mystery novel, but the end really caught me by surprise. 万灯 (まんとう), which might be the best short story of the book, was similarly quite slow and not really the kind of stories I wanted to read, event though the end was very good.

Not easy to identify with the protagonists

What all these short stories have in common is that they are told by a first-person narrator. I found that I had a hard time identifying with the protagonist-narrator or the other characters of the stories. Sometimes, I just could not understand why characters would make certain choices or act like they do. This is especially true for 柘榴 (ざくろ), which puzzled me a little. Similarly, I had difficulties feeling involved in the characters of 満願 (まんがん), the last short story of the book.

I find that the capacity for the reader to identify with protagonists of mystery novels is part of the thrill. You end up thinking “this could have happened to me” or “I would have done the same in this situation and end up in the same mess”. So not being able to feel close to the characters somewhat affected my experience with the stories.

Favourite short stories

While I overall liked all the stories, there are some that I truly loved. I found 死人宿 to be very engrossing because it feels like reading a detective story. And my favourite story is by far 関守. I found it so good, I would be happy to read this kind of stories every day. It is only based on one long dialogue and is overall an engrossing investigation. It also has a kind of tension building up and an excellent end as well.

Conclusion

I think that the short stories of 『満願』 are all excellent, but because I could not feel close to most of the characters, I did not enjoy the book as much as most people. The short story 関守 however, is one my favourite reads of the year.

Illustration inspired by 万灯: 「ボイシャク村の様相は、バングラデシュの他の村に比べて特に変わっているわけではなかった。屋根は茅のような植物を束ねたもので葺かれており、壁材には竹が目立つ。葉の大きい木々が村のすぐ近くまで迫り、風に揺られている。」 (p.200)