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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Transparent Labyrinth

Hirano Keiichirō

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To purchase The Transparent Labyrinth

Title: The Transparent Labyrinth
Author: Hirano Keiichirō
Genre: Novella
Written: 2014 (Eng. 2017)
Length: 42 pages
Original in: Japanese
Availability: The Transparent Labyrinth - US
The Transparent Labyrinth - UK
The Transparent Labyrinth - Canada
  • Japanese title: 透明な迷宮
  • Translated by Kerim Yasar
  • With a Foreword by John Freeman
  • A volume in the Strangers Press Keshiki-series

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Our Assessment:

B : nice little twisted tale

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       The two-part novella The Transparent Labyrinth quickly gets to the crux of the plot, a life-changing experience for Okada and a woman he only met a few hours earlier. The book opens with them, and ten other people: "crouching, naked, in a high-ceilinged room painted black".
       They are in what is apparently a private home -- a seven-storey one -- in Budapest. Everything is luxurious, and the evening had started with: "a dinner reception, where Okada and Misa spent a relaxing hour" -- but then they were brought to this room, where they are now expected to perform for the man who is apparently the master of the house. What he wants them to perform are sexual acts.
       Only then does the story reveal a bit more about Okada, and how he got himself into this situation. He is in Budapest on business, and on his last night in town he met a Japanese woman at a local café. This is Misa, who is there with an Italian woman, Federica, with whom she is involved in a relationship of sorts. Misa has been traveling in Europe for several months now -- but it doesn't take much for Okada to convince her to fly home with him the next day. But Federica doesn't take the possible parting well -- and leads them to the party that culminates in the novella's opening scene.
       The situation Okada, Misa, and the anonymous others find themselves in is certainly threatening -- compliance is forced on them -- but the terms the master of the house sets readily allow all to return to their normal lives the next day. Though, unsurprisingly, it doesn't prove all that easy in other ways, after the debasing experience Okada and Misa are put through.
       The second part of the story is set in Japan, after Okada returned, as planned. It opens with the claim:

     Nothing changed in Okada's life after returning to Japan.
       But, of course, what happened to him in Budapest continues to haunt him -- as does the memory of Misa.
       Misa did not return to Japan with him, but she does eventually reënter his life -- suggesting also the possibility of them perhaps being able to put their shared experience behind them. But Hirano doesn't make it quite so simple, adding another twist to the story: Okada never really got to know Misa very well in Budapest -- and it turns out there's a bit more to who she is than he originally realized.
       The labyrinth of the title is one Okada imagines himself in -- an invisible one that he is navigating on his own and has been since Budapest. In Hungary he had visited the underground labyrinth of the Buda Castle; already then, after he emerged, he:
strolled around aimlessly, as if the city were a continuation of the labyrinth.
       He sees it continuing still. The events of the night and the next morning leave him trapped in his own transparent labyrinth -- with only, he eventually realizes, Misa as a possible companion or guide out. Which, given the circumstances, is hardly straightforward either.
       The Transparent Labyrinth is an agreeably unsettling story, of an ordinary man forced -- briefly -- into an extraordinary situation before being thrust back into his everyday life. The nature of the woman who he is so drawn to complicates any possibility of change or transcendence -- but at least he is more clearly aware of his situation by the end. Hirano plays this all out quite well, from the decadent feel of old Budapest to contemporary Japanese anomie, making for an effective little tale.

       Note: The Transparent Labyrinth is one of the volumes in Strangers Press' Keshiki-series of chapbooks, and, like all the volumes in the series, quite beautifully produced.

- M.A.Orthofer, 26 July 2017

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The Transparent Labyrinth: Reviews: Hirano Keiichirō: Other books by Hirano Keiichirō under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Japanese author Hirano Keiichirō (平野啓一郎) was born in 1975.

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© 2017-2021 the complete review

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