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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Lonely Hearts Killer

Hoshino Tomoyuki

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To purchase Lonely Hearts Killer

Title: Lonely Hearts Killer
Author: Hoshino Tomoyuki
Genre: Novel
Written: 2004 (Eng. 2009)
Length: 214 pages
Original in: Japanese
Availability: Lonely Hearts Killer - US
Lonely Hearts Killer - UK
Lonely Hearts Killer - Canada
directly from: PM Press
  • Japanese title: ロンリー・ハーツ・キラー
  • Translated and with an Introduction by Adrienne Carey Hurley
  • With a Preface by the author
  • With an Author/Translator Q & A

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Our Assessment:

B : occasionally too leaden, but effectively severe take on contemporary Japanese society

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Publishers Weekly . 11/1/2010 .

  From the Reviews:
  • "Something feels lost in translation in Hoshino's parable-like tale of intrigue set in a conformist island nation that bears a striking resemblance to Japan. (...) Unfortunately, the prose is achingly dull, and the narrative's lack of focus prevents readers from connecting." - Publishers Weekly

  • "A nearly nihilistic tale of rebellion and revolution, Lonely Hearts Killer overtly engages hot-button geopolitical issues -- climate change, authoritarianism, and the culture of fear -- as well as social issues particular to modern Japan-majoritarian pressures to conform and the suicide cult among young Japanese." - Michael A. Morrison, World Literature Today (5-6/2013)

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:

       Although author Hoshino Tomoyuki avoids mentioning the name Japan -- the nation where Lonely Hearts Killer is set is referred to only as this 'Island Country' --, there's no question that the novel is both set there and very much a commentary on contemporary Japanese society. No specific time is mentioned either, but the 2004 novel is set in a then-near-future, with, for example, some effects of climate change already being felt. (So also, even if Japan is not specifically mentioned, there is a 'Kantô Desert' (as opposed to the actual Kantō (region).)
       The environment has become more inhospitable, but it's largely background here, a given; it's mentioned that: "so much of these islands' population clings to dusty plains of concrete and sand", but that's little more than a physical manifestation of the general state of the nation and its inhabitants. One of the characters describes: "this place being islands of children", with even adults: "remaining in a state of childhood", and it his take on this kind of immaturity that is a significant part of the social critique Hoshino presents here.
       Lonely Hearts Killer is presented in three parts, each with a different narrator. The first is Shôji Inoue, a film student who lives at home. He presents himself as the embodiment of the I-am-camera idea, admitting: "I have no real sense of participating in society" and making the point that: "I'm not a player. I'm just an observer". He does upload what he films on a webcast he has, reaching (and reaching out for) an audience, but for the most part his description is accurate, as he largely remains at a remove from society.
       The story is set in motion by the death of the nation's monarch (i.e. the Japanese Emperor): the novel begins with Shôji's mention of it (and his claim it has nothing to do with him), the opening sentence being:

     Even when His Majesty died I wasn't fazed, not even un poquito.
       Much like its ambiguous state in present-day Japan, monarchy is both still taken deeply seriously on some levels while also not having much to do with everyday life here -- valued as a sort of 'soul of the nation'. His Majesty here was still young when he died -- only in his mid-forties --; he was also still single, leaving no issue -- this leading to his thirty-five-year-old sister becoming the successor. (Under current Japanese imperial household law a woman can not become emperor, so Hoshino is positing a radical break with (recent) tradition here.)
       For Shôji:
     I don't invest much in society or how a Majesty and society are linked, so I didn't relate to either camp. What interested me was how the holed-up youth were going to take Her New Majesty. When the succession ceremony is eld, will they return to their lives independent of Her Majesty and vow never again to be affected by any Majesty, nipping the connection in the bud ? Or will they paint their cheeks red in wild anticipation and wave the flag ? Or will they stay holed-up like they are now ?
       For all his supposed remaining apart, he continues to be drawn to the fundamental questions raised by the national imperial system and its highest representative; he concludes: "It wasn't just the individual Young Majesty, but Majesty that died. Majesty was dead. There would be no more !" -- and he wants to open the eyes of the world to that. He doesn't want to be a bystander any longer; he has a truth that's important enough that he wants to spread it. He's aware of the limitations of his chosen métier -- "Even though my camera records the illusion, it doesn't record the truly real" -- and turns to writing, posting on his website.
       What he wants to convey is his insight that: "The world was already dying. I understood it, that this is a post-mortem world", and:
     Because this is a post-mortem world, it's natural for those who are still living to desire death. But even though this is a post-mortem world, it's not the afterworld. It's this world itself that is post-mortem
       Shôji become, in essence, the 'lonely hearts killer', with his embrace of another peculiar Japanese tradition -- the love-suicide -- and the message he leaves behind, which strikes a chord with so many of his compatriots.
       The first part of the novel closes with Shôji's message -- which is, fundamentally, a call to action. The next part is narrated by Iroha, a classmate with whom he had worked together; it's several year later and Inoue's legacy lingers on -- even though she mentions: "As I'm sure you're aware, it's against the law to expose others to Inoue's files", as the authorities have tried to remove all traces of Shôji's final message. Iroha has retreated to a mountain lodge overseen by Mokuren (who will then narrate the short concluding part), a retreat away from society; among the main duties she assumes there are watching over the local source of water -- a vital but fragile resource in these times.
       Love-suicides in many variations -- "branded with unfortunate labels like indiscriminate love suicide, random street killing-suicide, personal terrorism, and suicide terrorism", and even preëmptive killings excused as justifiable self-defense -- have proliferated over the years: Society has become unmoored:
     We are now terrorized in two ways. First, as you know, we live in terror that someone will suddenly kill us. The other is the terror that someday we ourselves might kill another person, that we might want to kill, or that we might inadvertently cause the death of another.
       Iroha is more or less in hiding because of her connection to Shôji, which had led many people to target her, holding her responsible for what has happened (since Shôji removed himself from the discussion in beginning it all) -- a separation from society that, even if the reasons for it are different, is simply a variation of Shôji's own earlier life. Eventually, the press is successful in reaching her; in response to their questions she echoes Shôji in noting: "Who in this society is surviving ? Aren't we all just either dead or not dead yet ?"
       A weak statement by Her Majesty had done little to change the national mood (and suicide-variation enthusiasm); a later, stronger one then does seem to help shift the tide (even as it passes Iroha and those at the lodge by, since they don't even have a TV there to watch it). There is a change: "Society returned to 'normal'". But Iroha thinks they've just returned to the same delusion: her narrative closes with her disseminating Shôji's document once again, hoping through it once again to open the eyes of the dulled masses.
       The short final part sums up the fall-out if Iroha's actions, personally and beyond, narrated by Mokuren. Once again, the situation surrounding Her Majesty takes on larger-than-life significance, even as the story winds down on the very personal level.
       It all makes for a story that's heavily symbolic -- and simply quite heavy, too, in its dark portrayal and analysis of Japan and the contemporary Japanese condition. The novel progresses in fits and spurts; there are some genuinely powerful episodes woven in, along with a great deal of reflection, by various voices (not just the three narrators, as others' expositions are also presented at some length). If not exactly ponderous, the narrative(s) can get a bit cumbrous; there's a limited flow to the novel. But in its portrayal of contemporary Japanese society and (some of) its ills it packs an effective punch, burrowing in deep as it progresses.
       Familiarity with Japan -- or at least (or especially ?) modern Japanese fiction and its often dark view of contemporary Japanese society -- certainly helps in appreciating much of what Hoshino is addressing, but there's enough here that even simply in the abstract Lonely Hearts Killer is of some interest.

- M.A.Orthofer, 6 February 2022

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Lonely Hearts Killer: Reviews: Other books by Hoshino Tomoyuki under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Japanese author Hoshino Tomoyuki (星野智幸) was born in 1965.

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© 2022 the complete review

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