~written by Otsuichi
~translated by Andrew Cunningham
2003 Honkaku Mystery Grand Prize Winner
So far, Otsuichi, who is best known for his horror short stories, has had four of his major works translated into English. Although currently out of print, Goth was the second of his books to be made available. First published in Japan in 2002, Goth has been adapted into a manga and a live action film. Somewhat unexpectedly since it is a light novel and light novels generally aren't taken very seriously, Goth won the 2003 Honkaku Mystery Grand Prize for Best Novel. I actually first read Kendi Oiwa's manga adaptation of Goth but I liked it so well that I went to the effort to track down a copy of the source material to read. Andrew Cunningham's translation of the novel was published by Tokyopop in 2008 as part of their largely, and unfortunately, unsuccessful fiction line. Tokyopop also published Otsuichi's Calling You while Haikasoru has released Zoo and Summer, Fireworks, and My Corpse.
Although attractive, most of Morino's high school classmates find her to be rather odd and avoid her. She mostly keeps to herself with one exception--another classmate that shares her fascination with death. The difference is that his interest isn't limited to curiosity, he would actually like to act on his desires to kill someone. He hides it well though and no one really suspects him except for maybe Morino. To him, she is less of a friend and more of an obsession. Together they closely watch the news for information on murders, kidnappings, and other tragedies. Even more exciting is when these events happen close by or even in their own neighborhood. Occasionally, they even do some investigating on their own, not because they want justice but merely because they want to know what happened and feel an affinity with those involved.
Although Goth is generally referred to as a novel, the six individual chapters largely stand on their own and could be read separately. Granted, they do make small reference to one another and the final chapter would lose much of its effectiveness if it wasn't read last. What ties the stories together is Morino, her classmate, and their dark obsessions. They are somewhat difficult to call the protagonists, though. Often the two barely make an appearance and are mostly side characters to the main action. But, they are still very important and crucial to the stories. Each chapter is mostly told from a changing first person perspective, adding to the tension since it is frequently difficult to determine just who it is that is telling the story until close to its finish. The reader can only sit back and watch with morbid fascination and anticipation for all to be revealed since nothing can be done to change the course of the unfolding events.
Because I had previously read the manga adaptation of Goth, I was already aware of some of the major twists in the story. But even though I was vaguely aware of what would happen, Goth was still a very dark and disconcerting novel. Since it is told directly from the perspective of the characters, the reader is privy to exactly what is going through their heads. And seeing as many of them are serial killers, that is a very creepy place to be. Particularly disturbing is Morino's classmate, unnamed until close to the end of the book, who keeps getting mixed up in these incidents and who harbors his own aberrant behaviors and tendencies. While he hasn't done anything seriously wrong yet at the beginning of Goth, he becomes less and less of an observer as the novel progresses. The tension continues to build as we wait for him to finally lose it. Goth may be disturbing, but it is also very good. I certainly want to read more of Otsuichi's works now.