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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Rope Artist

Nakamura Fuminori

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To purchase The Rope Artist

Title: The Rope Artist
Author: Nakamura Fuminori
Genre: Novel
Written: 2018 (Eng. 2023)
Length: 281 pages
Original in: Japanese
Availability: The Rope Artist - US
The Rope Artist - UK
The Rope Artist - Canada
from: Bookshop.org (US)
  • Japanese title: その先の道に消える
  • Translated by Sam Bett

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Our Assessment:

B : bleak murder-tale, with a lot more twisted into it

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Wall St. Journal . 28/4/2023 Tom Nolan

The complete review's Review:

       The Rope Artist begins with detective Mikiya Togashi at the scene of a murder. The victim is Kazunari Yoshikawa, and among the few things found in his planner is Maiko Kirita's card -- a woman Togashi knows. After talking to her he interferes in the investigation, hoping to keep anyone from following up on her relationship with the victim.
       Yoshikawa had been into tying up women, a practitioner of kinbaku, a 'rope artist', and this form of sexual/sensual/controlling play features in much of the novel, with several variations described in detail. (Note that while the English title of the novel puts kinbaku at the fore, the original Japanese title, その先の道に消える, which translates as something along the lines of: 'Disappearing on the road ahead', is slightly more subtle.)
       Another detective at the scene at the beginning is Yuichi Hayama, a very different character from Togashi. It is Hayama who at one point observes to Togashi: "If we could only put our heads together". But Togashi is leery of him, and they are too far apart to truly work on the case together.
       Each struggles with their own demons: already at the scene Togashi finds he's "spaced out" (his excuse to a colleague -- "I'm still drunk after last night" -- is apparently okay on the job in Japan ...), and when he was a child, traumatized by the death of his mother, he had symptoms of amnesia -- the sort: "they call a fugue state, brought on by extreme stress". Togashi, who narrates the first part of the novel, seems often in a dazed state, and is pretty much a mess of a man . Hayama seems much more professional, in every way, but is also haunted by loss -- of the love of his life, Kyoko, who died in her mid-thirties of cancer. (The various women the detectives engage with during their investigations also have their issues and traumas to overcome -- with kinbaku offering, in one way or another, some hold for them.)
       One clue the police follow is that an Ami Ito apparently lived with the murder victim -- but she turns out to have been killed a while earlier. Still, it's not entirely a dead end, as she appears to have a near-double, Mari Yamamoto, who is still alive.
       The first part of the novel is narrated by Togashi, with Hayama taking over in the second half of the book, gradually unknotting the complicated case which comes to involve quite a few deaths (and many feints as to the circumstances to and perpetrator behind them).
       In an Afterword Nakamura writes that: "what I was hoping to convey was this sense of a dim light through a veil of fog, in which the fragments of a few lives overlap, to form a story", and he has succeeded at that. This is no crisp and clear-cut whodunnit. The rope play is integrated well into the story -- down to repeated mention of the use of hemp to make the rope, and the qualities and consequences of that -- but with so many significant characters (and two narrators), the novel never really coalesces around any single one of them. The novel was first published piecemeal, serially, chunk by chunk, between 2015 and 2018, and while it is a unified story it has the feel of one where the focus drifts from one piece (and person) to another.
       The Rope Artist is full of damaged lives and dark reflection, more concerned with what (often very twisted things) lurks within the heart than laying out a neat murder-mystery. It's quite well done, but bleak; readers should know what they're getting themselves into.

- M.A.Orthofer, 26 April 2023

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The Rope Artist: 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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© 2023 the complete review

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