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by Fumimori Nakamura and Allison Markin Powell, trans.
Soho , January 2016
208 pages
ISBN: 1616955902

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Nishikawa, a young university student out for a walk one evening, comes across the body of a man, recently dead, and near him, a revolver. Almost without thought, Nishikawa pockets the gun and takes it home with him, where it casts a spell over him, much as the ring did over Gollum, transforming his essentially affectless life.

In the beginning, the gun is a fetish object. Nishikawa strokes it endlessly, polishing its snub-nosed barrel and marvelling at its power and beauty. Its inscriptions are objects of wonder - the Colt logo, the cross-hatching on the grips, the barrel, the cylinder, all speak to him in an obscure but wonderful way. He buys it special cloth on which to rest and a leather pouch in which to sleep. This found object, so rare in ordinary Japanese life, becomes the central fact of his existence, an existence that appears to have been utterly devoid of meaning up till now.

He becomes romantically involved with one young woman and sexually involved with another. He behaves badly to both. All the while the gun is growing larger in his life and whispering its inevitable message - a gun is made for just one purpose and that is to kill.

THE GUN arrives in English at a moment when American gun-worship is at the centre of political argument. It is fair to ask if viewing the object itself from the perspective of another culture is useful. In Japan, apparently, guns are extremely rare. In the US, figures suggest that there are enough guns in circulation to arm every last American, including the newborn, and still have some left over. Possession of a gun America is not extraordinary, though it is far from insignificant. But for our Japanese student, it is singular. Almost no other civilian in all of Japan has one. It allows him to become real as he has never felt before. Whereas the rhetoric of American gun ownership aims to empower the individual and give him control over his fate, it would seem, on the basis of this book at least, that the gun has a wholly opposite meaning in Japan. Nishikawa may be initially transformed by his numinous gun, but in the end, however, he, like poor Gollum, becomes its servant.

Fuminori Nakamura is the author of several noir crime novels, among them THE THIEF, which have been warmly received. THE GUN is his first, published originally in 2002 and winner of the Sinchō Prize for New Writers. It marked out the territory that Nakamura has been traversing ever since - noir crime with a noticeable Japanese flavour but with roots more in French and Russian alienation than in American crime fiction.

THE THIEF was a compelling and stylish narrative, spare but not desiccated, and one in which the narrator was more than a philosophical construct. It also benefited from a brilliant translation, the work of Satoko Izumo and Stephen Coates. THE GUN is less fortunate in this respect and the stodginess of the prose makes even this brief work something of a chore to complete. Those already interested in Japanese noir will probably find it of interest. Others will find Nakamura's later work much more worth their while.

Yvonne Klein is a writer, translator, and retired college English professor who lives in Montreal.

Reviewed by Yvonne Klein, December 2015

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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