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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Murakami Ryu

general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Piercing

Title: Piercing
Author: Murakami Ryu
Genre: Novel
Written: 1994 (Eng. 2007)
Length: 185 pages
Original in: Japan
Availability: Piercing - US
Piercing - UK
Piercing - Canada
Piercing - Deutschland
Piercing - España
  • Japanese title: ピアッシング
  • Translated by Ralph McCarthy
  • Piercing was made into a movie in 2018, directed by Nicolas Pesce and starring Christopher Abbott and Mia Wasikowska

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Our Assessment:

B : dark and gory, but works quite well

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Guardian . 20/1/2007 Chris Petit
The LA Times . 22/4/2007 Karrie Higgins
Neue Zürcher Zeitung . 2/7/2009 Leopold Federmair
New Statesman . 5/2/2007 Alastair Sooke
The NY Times Book Rev. . 15/4/2007 Alison McCulloch
San Francisco Chronicle . 1/4/2007 Irene Wanner
The Telegraph . 14/1/2007 Roger Perkins
The Telegraph C- 21/1/2007 Benjamin Seche
The Times . 24/1/2008 Christina Koning
TLS . 5/1/2007 Daniel Lukes

  Review Consensus:

  Not quite a consensus, but most find it effective

  From the Reviews:
  • "Piercing reads like a compendium of Hollywood psychological horror with Ryu Murakami, like his famous namesake, exploiting the influence of western popular culture upon Japan. (...) While Piercing doesn't necessarily work on the level of its props or as conventional psychology, its states of anxiety make perfect sense (.....) The book is well haunted by its demons even when they turn out to be psychological cliché. An interior (and indoors) novel, it succeeds through its commendable brevity and deadpan delivery (and, as with any work that depends on ellipsis, is not well served by synopsis)." - Chris Petit, The Guardian

  • "Piercing could easily fall into cliché. Its saving grace is Murakami's masterful use of third-person perspective." - Karrie Higgins, The Los Angeles Times

  • "Die Erzählung arbeitet sich an die Gleichzeitigkeit heran, indem sie zeitlich minimale Vorgriffe und Rückblicke setzt. Dadurch entstehen kleine Rucke im sonst straffen Erzählrhythmus, die dem Roman einen zusätzlichen Reiz verleihen. Diese handwerkliche Versiertheit, gepaart mit der Fähigkeit des Autors, in Seelenabgründe hinabzureichen, hebt diesen Roman weit über blosse Genre-Literatur hinaus." - Leopold Federmair, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

  • "Piercing is an off-kilter, amoral and viscerally upsetting novel. But it is never less than compelling. Murakami writes about violence with disturbing nonchalance.(...) Murakami has always been good at atmosphere, and it is this sense of paranoia and panic that he so vividly evokes here." - Alastair Sooke, New Statesman

  • "Murakami has a known predilection for shock (...) but in Piercing there is little else besides. (...) Depending on your fortitude, Murakami's penetrating forays into the minds of abused children may make the horror worth getting through, or may not." - Alison McCulloch, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Piercing, a short, quick-paced and kinky tragicomedy, may become his breakthrough book, moving him beyond cult status and closer to the mainstream. (...) Murakami delights in exploring the thin dramatic line between tragedy and comedy, rescuing this dismal reality with slapstick mix-ups and misunderstandings." - Irene Wanner, San Francisco Chronicle

  • "The plotting of the psychological thriller that follows is little short of immaculate. The shortness of the novel shows up the crafted symmetry of the principal characters: predator/victim, piercer/piercee, mutilator/self-mutilator. More importantly, he is adept at portraying what happens when these roles fall apart and the certainties of a life, however distorted, disappear. It's a good, rather-old fashioned skill, reminiscent in a weird way of the short stories of O. Henry, albeit O. Henry with a gimp mask and a tube of water-based lubricant." - Roger Perkins, The Telegraph

  • "But with more than half the book still to go, Murakami has to find a way of stringing out this strange, violent encounter into something more substantial. His solution -- and it's the wrong one -- is belatedly to add flesh to his two-dimensional characters, to try to explain not just what they're doing (in all its twisted glory) but why. You can tell his heart's not in it. (...) The writing, translated by Ralph McCarthy, doesn't help. It lurches from lucid description into weirdly clumsy observations about the workings of the human mind (...) and body" - Benjamin Seche, The Telegraph

  • "Piercing and its predecessor, In the Miso Soup, have won the author a cult following here and in his native Japan, but it has to be said that he is very much an acquired taste." - Christina Koning, The Times

  • "A smart and snappy psychosexual pulp thriller and a commentary on the violent things men and women do to one another, Piercing keeps the tension running high until its climactic resolution." - Daniel Lukes, Times Literary Supplement

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:

       There's a scene in Piercing where someone from the front desk at a hotel calls the main character's room, where it's been getting a bit noisy. The hotel employee's roundabout way of addressing the subject leads to the digression:

     What a roundabout way of complaining, Kawashima thought. Somewhere a little kid was getting his brains beaten to a pulp because he'd wet the bed; somewhere a woman who'd broken some arbitrary rule was being taken to a room where unspeakable things could be done to her away from prying eyes; and meanwhile: Is everything alright, sir ? Thank you so much for your cooperation, sir -- a complaint that sounded more like an apology.
       It's this duality that is of particular interest to Murakami: a Japanese society where on the surface all is very formal and orderly - but which covers up and turns a blind eye to a great deal. It's also a duality he finds in his characters: the central ones here, the graphic designer Kawashima Masayuki and the prostitute Chiaki, who were both abused in their childhoods and have clearly not gotten over that -- despite leading what appear to me or less ordinary lives.
       Piercing begins with a powerful and disturbing scene: Kawashima seems to be a content family man, with a wife and a baby. But for ten days he's been getting up at night and staring at the sleeping infant. With an ice pick in his hand. Worried: "Not again".
       Yes, the one secret he's been keeping even from his wife is that he once stabbed a woman with an ice pick. And that urge seems to be coming back ..... Kawashima does admit to having night terrors -- just like Chiaki suffers from "the Nightmare", an episode she's endured seven times. In both cases, it's clear that it's a consequence of their horrible childhoods. They seem to have survived their childhoods remarkably well, considering, for example, what happened to most of the kids Kawashima was raised with, but, like Japan itself, appearances can be deceptive.
       Kawashima become obsessed with his ice-picking idea and decides he has to get it out of his system. He draws up an elaborate plan to take it all out on a prostitute -- but the girl he winds up with is Chiaki, a kindred spirit who has her own problems to deal with, messing up his plan.
       Kawashima's carefully written-up blueprint (he carries the notes with him, too) falls apart almost immediately, but he tries to make the best of it. Meanwhile, Chiaki is going through her own thing, further confusing and confounding him. There's blood and violence -- though rarely exactly as planned. And, yes, the book ends with some piercing .....
       Both Kawashima and Chiaki have the opportunity to turn to authorities to try to get themselves out of this situation -- he considers calling her employers, at some point they each consider telling the police -- but it's just easier to leave them out of it. Indeed, they consider it hardly worth their time. Even when Chiaki goes to the emergency room to get some very unpleasant wounds attended to she lies to the doctor and even though it's obvious she's lying he's more than willing to accept her story and leave it at that. Like the abused kids who are ignored, everyone prefers to pretend everything is alright. Life is just much simpler that way -- except, of course, that Murakami means to show it's really not.
       Piercing is a pretty gory and often unpleasant tale, but Murakami does a fairly good job with it. Both Kawashima and Chiaki are convincing characters -- and the contrast to Kawashima's domestic life is particularly well presented. There's a bit too much reliance on the altered-mind-states of his characters -- their losing control -- but on the other hand it is completely plausible that they have suffered such intense psychological damage which occasionally manifests itself in these ways.
       Certainly unlikely to be to everyone's taste, Piercing nevertheless is a far more convincing examination of the demons within than was Murakami's In the Miso Soup -- though he perhaps tries too hard to place the blame on his characters' horrible childhoods here. But it still makes for a cold and devastating commentary on contemporary Japan, and -- for those who can take the blood and gore -- is a quick, worthwhile read.

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Piercing: Reviews: Piercing - the movie: Other books by Murakami Ryu under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Murakami Ryu (村上 龍) is a leading Japanese author. He was born in 1952.

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