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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Éric Faye

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To purchase Nagasaki

Title: Nagasaki
Author: Éric Faye
Genre: Novel
Written: 2010 (Eng. 2014)
Length: 109 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Nagasaki - US
Nagasaki - UK
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Nagasaki - Canada (French)
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Zimmer frei in Nagasaki - Deutschland
Nagasaki - Italia
La intrusa - España
  • French title: Nagasaki
  • Translated by Emily Boyce

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Our Assessment:

B : effective fictionalization of a true story, but then tries to explain too much

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Le Monde . 26//8/2010 Benjamin Fau
The Spectator . 3/5/2014 Lee Langley

  From the Reviews:
  • "Pour rendre justice à ce récit simple mais troublant, Faye parvient à adopter une sobriété et une efficacité d'estampe japonaise : pas une notation, pas un trait, pas une digression inutile -- l'essentiel, le coeur des faits et des pensées, rien d'autre." - Benjamin Fau, Le Monde

  • "In unhurried, limpid prose (Emily Boyce’s translation is exemplary, supple, capturing the author’s understated wit and meandering melancholy) the journey from discovery to dénouement follows both the householder and the intruder, with the narrative voice split between two protagonists. Little by little, everything is explained. Or so we think, until the novel changes gear and a deeper truth is revealed, tragic and touching, which casts a transforming light on what has gone before. With the lightest of touches we are led into a world of alienation, guilt and loss." - Lee Langley, The Spectator

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:

       Nagasaki has a pretty good premise: a man suspects that someone has regularly been in his house while he is at work. Even better: when he investigates more closely he finds the presence has been ... more present than he suspected.
       The man is Shimura Kobo, fifty-six, unmarried, living a pretty sad and solitary life in the suburbs of Nagasaki. This is Japan, where there's exceptionally little crime and watchful/nosy neighbors, so he thinks nothing of often leaving his door unlocked while he's out. But he gets suspicious, and by measuring the amount of juice left in a carton in his refrigerator he gets the first proof that someone has been helping themselves to some of his things.
       There's some kind of intruder at work here, though the only obvious traces are in the kitchen, where s/he has been helping themselves to small portions; keeping closer tabs Shimura soon finds: "I had enough information to build a picture of the intruder's dietary habits". He is mystified -- wondering even:

Might hard-working nobodies like me finally be getting their own groupies ?
       But whoever it is doesn't seem to be looking for contact -- unlike the isolated Shimura, reduced to: "angling for 'friends' on Facebook", who remains a solitary soul.
       Setting up a webcam that he can monitor from his office, Shimura finally glimpses the stranger in his domestic midst -- and, when he's sure, calls the police, who deal with the matter. He has second thoughts right after he calls the authorities, but has set in motion the process meant to set his world right again -- though of course it doesn't: what happened to him shakes him to his core; indeed, not much later he comes to move out of the house.
       Much of Nagasaki is narrated by Shimura, but the last parts are from and around the perspective of the intruder, concluding with a letter she writes to Shimura in which she explains herself and her actions, revealing a considerable amount of her past, as well as what drew her to Shimura's house (though his wasn't the only one she made herself comfortable in).
       Nagasaki is based on actual events; a note prefacing the novel explains:
This novel is based on a story which appeared in several Japanese newspapers, including Asahi, in May 2008.
       In fact, the story was so bizarre that it was widely reported in foreign newspapers as well -- including, prominently, in both The Guardian and The Telegraph.
       The real case took place near but not in Nagasaki, but one can understand Faye's slight geographical transposition, given both the greater name-recognition and Nagasaki's unusual position as the one harbor open to foreigners when the first contacts with European traders were established.
       Faye does well in presenting Shimura, a lone and lonely figure who admits: "Without wishing to overstate matters, I don't amount to much", and who has practically no social life, even refraining from going out drinking with his fellow office workers after work. He lives a life so rigid and closely circumscribed that he remains unaware of the intruder's presence -- shockingly, it turns out, when the extent of the intrusion is revealed -- and it's no wonder it shakes him up profoundly. But even as he shows Shimura's life so well, Faye feels compelled to spell out the intruder's -- literally spelling it out in the conclusion, as she pens a confession in which she details significant parts of her past, too neatly tying the whole story up like with a bow.
       Telling rather than showing can be fine in fiction -- often preferable, even -- but it's an abrupt turn-about here, as if Faye feels the need to justify her actions and can't be bothered to find a more subtle way of doing it. It's very much at odds with what otherwise is a much more intriguing story: mystery does not always have to be explained so precisely, and literature often benefits from leaving something to the reader's imagination; Faye, however, leaves far too little here. (It's unclear whether or not the facts detailed here also correspond to the actual ones; either way, it's a lot of baggage to close the story with.)
       Much of Nagasaki is quite impressive, but while the factual basis provided a wonderful premise it ultimately seems to have also hamstrung Faye, leaving him unable to convincingly move beyond it. His Shimura is a well-realized and, in his own way, fascinating character; his intruder much less so. (Ironically, the newspaper reports name (and give much more information about) the intruder but not the man whose home she went into, while in Faye's novel it is the man who is identified by name and not the intruder.)

- M.A.Orthofer, 23 November 2014

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Nagasaki: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of French literature

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About the Author:

       French author Éric Faye was born in 1963.

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