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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Fish Swimming in Dappled Sunlight

Onda Riku

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To purchase Fish Swimming in Dappled Sunlight

Title: Fish Swimming in Dappled Sunlight
Author: Onda Riku
Genre: Novel
Written: 2007 (Eng. 2022)
Length: 204 pages
Original in: Japanese
Availability: Fish Swimming in Dappled Sunlight - US
Fish Swimming in Dappled Sunlight - UK
Fish Swimming in Dappled Sunlight - Canada
from: Bookshop.org (US)
  • Japanese title: 木洩れ日に泳ぐ魚
  • Translated by Alison Watts

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Our Assessment:

B : cleverely twisted, and some good suspense

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Daily Mail A 2/6/2022 Christena Appleyard
The NY Times Book Rev. . 24/7/2022 Steph Cha

  From the Reviews:
  • "(S)he manages to pull off a combination of complex cerebral ideas with simple but mysterious storytelling. (...) A masterclass in thriller writing." - Christena Appleyard, Daily Mail

  • "(A) dreamy, circuitous psychological thriller (.....) Onda is an intriguing author, a genre novelist who writes neither neatly within nor self-consciously against genre conventions. Her narratives are elusive and bewildering, and half the fun of reading them is looping around, testing the walls, engaging and puzzling out their labyrinthine structures. (...) Fish Swimming doesn't lack for originality, but its substance is less compelling than its form." - Steph Cha, The New York Times Book Review

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 chapters in Fish Swimming in Dappled Sunlight switch back and forth between its two narrators, Hiro and Aki, who are spending one last night together in the apartment they have long shared, set now to move on with their lives on separate paths. The apartment is bare, the movers having already taken practically everything; they're using a suitcase as a table for the last meal they've come to share. They do still have things to talk about -- indeed, there's one specific thing each of them wants to get to the bottom of. A year earlier, a man had died -- and each strongly believes the other to have killed him, and now hopes, on this last night, to get the other to admit what they had done.
       It's a pretty good set-up for a story, with tension from the start. Right at the beginning Aki describes a movie she recently watched, in which some students had got together ("in an apartment like this"), and played a game where they turn on the gas, the challenge being to see who is willing to stay in the room the longest. As Aki the notes:

     Maybe it's not so different from our situation, maybe that's why I thought of it; the two of us about to spend a night together cooped up in this apartment, tête-à-tête, risking our lives in an endurance match.
       The initial impression one gets is that the two were romantically involved but that they have now drifted apart -- largely because of the lingering mystery around the death of the man they each believe the other must have been responsible for. Hiro even already has a new love-interest, a fiancée -- though as the night progresses he finds himself still so haunted by what had happened:
The events of a year ago are so fresh and graphic in my head right now that Misako is like a creature from another world. Thinking about Misako makes me feel safe, though, she's my refuge.
       And yet he can't help but wonder: "Will I really be able to live a "safe" life with Misako ?"
       As it turns out, the nature of Aki and Hiro's relationship and its history are a lot more complicated than it first seemed. In Onda's presentation, revealing layers are only slowly pulled away -- making for several surprises for the reader, and then for Aki and Hiro as well.
       We learn that the dead man was a tour guide, and that Aki and Hiro had hired him when they went on a hiking trip. At some point on the hike, the guide had suggested making an unplanned stop -- and had then fallen to his death. It was ruled an accidental death, but Aki and Hiro were not together when it happened, and each has reason to believe the other was responsible for it.
       There are some curious details about that trip -- beginning with the fact that Aki and Hiro booked the tour under assumed names. And while it was to some extent chance that this particular guide was assigned to them, it seemed, at the time, a fortuitous coïncidence. But, as Aki now realizes:
If that man had known the truth about us, then it casts a completely different light on the events of a year ago.
       The truth about them only slowly emerges, step by step, shifting the nature of Fish Swimming in Dappled Sunlight as the story proceeds.
       Aki and Hiro can't escape the past. They look to figure it out -- both what happened a year earlier, and also things from longer ago -- and find considerably more than they bargained for. As Aki notes: "Memory is so strange, isn't it ?" -- and she comes to admit: "Thinking back, I've felt uncertain about the past for a very long time". What certainty they then find is not much more reässuring ..... And, as the pieces are fit together, Aki can't help but note: "Reality. The very word has a strange ring".
       Fish Swimming in Dappled Sunlight is a cleverly turned thriller and psychological study. Even as the situation changes, the tension merely shifts elsewhere: Aki and Hiro quite quickly accept that the other did not kill the man -- but the possibility of murder, for example, remains in the air. Their outside romantic involvement -- Aki also has a suitor -- also complicate matters. And then there's their whole backstory, which even they only slowly begin to divine the truth of .....
       It's a clever idea, and Onda keeps up the suspense quite well; certainly, there are some neat twists, too. The single-night-long confrontation approach, and its back and forth presentation, one chapter in Hiro's head, the next in Aki's, and so on, is a good one, but of course also limiting, despite the recollections that are woven into their narratives; ultimately, Onda does have to pull out the computer and slip in a quick Google (or the like)-search for the finishing touches. Still, this is a good, quick little suspenseful tale, with some nice surprises.

- M.A.Orthofer, 7 July 2022

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Fish Swimming in Dappled Sunlight: Reviews: Other books by Onda Riku under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Japanese author Onda Riku (恩田陸) was born in 1964.

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© 2022 the complete review

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