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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Evil and the Mask

Nakamura Fuminori

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To purchase Evil and the Mask

Title: Evil and the Mask
Author: Nakamura Fuminori
Genre: Novel
Written: 2010 (Eng. 2013)
Length: 356 pages
Original in: Japanese
Availability: Evil and the Mask - US
Evil and the Mask - UK
Evil and the Mask - Canada
Evil and the Mask - India
Die Maske - Deutschland
  • Japanese title: 悪と仮面のルール
  • Translated by Satoko Izumo and Stephen Coates

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Our Assessment:

B : clever, twist-filled thriller of evil, fate, and (attempted) redemption

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
FAZ . 18/5/2018 Sandra Kegel
The Japan Times . 4/5/2014 Andrew Lee
Publishers Weekly . 29/4/2013 .
Wall St. Journal . 7/6/2013 Tom Nolan

  From the Reviews:
  • "Der Thriller hat eine mal mitreißende, mal verstörende Handlung, die zu den dunkelsten Orten der japanischen Gegenwart vordringt." - Sandra Kegel, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "(H)is fiction blurs the line between the crime and literary genres, with Evil and the Mask mixing noir and the existential question of free will." - Andrew Lee, The Japan Times

  • "At times bizarre, at times hallucinatory, the story is always provocative." - Publishers Weekly

  • "That Kuki persists in trying to resolve psychological dilemmas implanted during his traumatic childhood, let alone find a few rays of light in such a murky contemporary landscape, makes him a singular hero indeed and Evil and the Mask a unique literary mystery." - Tom Nolan, Wall Street Journal

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:

       The narrator of Evil and the Mask, Fumihiro Kuki, is the youngest son of old man Shozo, in a family that doesn't really go for those family get-togethers. As a child, Fumihiro doesn't know what happened to his mother and, despite living in the same household, barely sees his father -- who is prone to disappear for extended periods of time. Moreover, he's apparently in his teens before he even meets any of his five much older siblings. Nevertheless, there's some sense of family honor and tradition, and certainly Shozo exerts careful control over the family and its sizeable commercial empire.
       The novel basically begins with Fumihiro recalling how, when he was eleven years old, his father called him in to his study and explained to him what he had in mind for the special boy:

Under my guidance, you wil become a cancer. A personification of evil, you could say.
       Shozo tells his son that, unlike his other children, Fumihiro was: "created on purpose, when I was already past sixty". Apparently, the Kuki family like to do this sort of thing every now and then -- breed a family-member to become a cancer on society.
       Drunk Shozo explains that:
Under my tutelage, you will become a brilliant man. Intellectually you will be greatly in advance of your years, and then when you turn fourteen, I am going to show you hell.
       The speech and warning come with another revelation: a new member of the household, a girl named Kaori that Shozo adopts into the family. About the same age as Fumihiro, dressed in white, she of course is also part of Shozo's plan. Fumihiro is meant to get attached to the girl -- and then, when he turns fourteen, Shozo will use the boy's feelings for the girl to expose him to (and get him to embrace) pure evil.
       The idea of molding a boy into a creature of pure evil isn't entirely novel, but Nakamura's approach is fairly effective -- one of extended foreboding, as Shozo continues not to be much of a presence in the boy's life, and the two kids lead relatively normal lives, at least for a while. They do fall in love, and they do become intimate; meanwhile, they are aware that the clock keeps ticking, and Fumihiro's fourteenth birthday approaches .....
       Evil and the Mask repeatedly offers the unexpected: Shozo's plan, once he starts to put it into action, is effective, but doesn't play out quite the way readers might have expected. This, and the twists that follow, are quite cleverly done (though it does get to a point where Nakamura arguably goes a twist or two too far).
       The novel also moves back between the past -- those largely innocent years with Kaori, and then Fumihiro 's teens -- and the present, a decade or so later. In the present-day, Fumihiro has gone to great lengths to separate himself from his legacy -- his family, his past, Kaori -- and has tried his darnedest to become, in every sense, another. He has even taken on another identity, 'becoming' Koichi Shintani -- though as careful as he has been in his transformation, he can't quite fully prepare himself for dealing with what burden there is attached to Koichi's own legacy .....
       Once he has re-made himself, Fumihiro hires a private investigator to look into what has become of Kaori. The PI is instructed to only look into her present circumstances -- but, of course, soon enough the past rears its ugly head as well. Fumihiro isn't the only one taking an interest in Kaori -- who now works as a 'hostess' in a high-end club --, and he finds himself forced to take the kind of action that he hoped he had moved beyond.
       As he's reminded, however:
You're carrying the curse of the Kukis, the burden of their wars and their atrocities.
       It turns out to be a heavy load, and one that's hard to leave behind.
       He realizes, too:
You could say that everything had become weirdly distorted because I'd broken the rules so many times.
       In a present-day Tokyo that's also unsettled because of the activities of an underground group called JL, who take responsibility for the murders of several prominent figures, the sense throughout is one of a society that's off-kilter -- and where order is easily and often simply randomly upset (yes, popping up like a cancer and then quickly destroying the host it has selected).
       JL is not you typical political organization, either -- and so, in some ways, even more dangerous to the fabric of society than traditional terrorists:
     We're attacking all accepted values. Authority, class differences, shared perceptions. We don't care what happens to our social structure -- revolutions are for suckers. Our target is people's collective consciousness. It's like throwing a cream pie in their face.
       Nakamura unfolds the plot nicely, slowly adding twist upon twist, as Fumihiro finds out how difficult it is to leave the past and his Kuki-legacy behind (as well as just how nasty that legacy is). Both the concept of the novel and the plot are quite good, but Nakamura doesn't manage the overall presentation quite as well as he did in the considerably more assured The Thief. A few too many layers here feel a bit forced, while the concept of pure evil that Shozo and his ilk embrace could stand to be explored in greater depth (as is, the few second-hand stories about it only suggest it rather than truly convey it to the necessary extent).
       Fumihiro's wrestling with his demons is quite compelling, but, like the book as a whole, doesn't feel quite deep enough. Still, Evil and the Mask is consistently intriguing, and Nakamura does manage some nice surprises and turns, making for a solid, entertaining read.

- M.A.Orthofer, 8 June 2013

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Evil and the Mask: Reviews: Nakamura Fuminori: Other books by Nakamura Fuminori under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Japanese author Nakamura Fuminori (中村 文則) was born in 1977.

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© 2013-2023 the complete review

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