After reading Tomoyuki Hoshino’s collection of short fiction We, the Children of Cats, I knew that I wanted to read more of his work. And so I turned to the novel Lonely Hearts Killer, Hoshino’s first and currently only other volume available in English. Lonely Hearts Killer was originally published in Japan in 2004, making it a later work than most of the stories collected in We, the Children of Cats. Adrienne Carey Hurley’s translation of Lonely Hearts Killer was released in 2009. She initially had a difficult time finding a publisher for the novel. However, like We, the Children of Cats, Lonely Hearts Killer was ultimately released by PM Press under its Found in Translation imprint. Because We, the Children of Cats left such a huge impression on me, I was especially curious to read a long-form work by Hoshino.
When a young and popular emperor unexpectedly dies with only his sister to succeed him, the country is left stunned and directionless. Some people are so affected by his death that they are “spirited away,” a phenomenon which leaves them in a near catatonic state. Shōji Inoue is not one of those people. A young and privileged experimental filmmaker living off his parents, he is fascinated by society’s reaction to the emperor’s death. When he learns that Mikoto, the boyfriend of Iroha–a former classmate, fellow filmmaker, and friend–is among the group of people to have suffered a breakdown, he is intensely curious. But Inoue and Mikoto’s meeting triggers an even greater tragedy and Iroha is left behind to deal with the aftermath. Years later Iroha is working at a remote lodge owned by her friend Mokuren, away from the prying eyes of the mass media which blames her in part for the epidemic of suicides and murders that have swept the country. At the same time, the mass media is one of her only remaining ties to the rest of the world.
Lonely Hearts Killer is told in three parts by three different narrators, each building on and critiquing those that precede them. “The Sea of Tranquility” is seen from Inoue’s perspective, “The Love Suicide Era” is Iroha’s response, and Mokuren’s commentary concludes the novel in “Subida Al Cielo.” Each chapter leads further away from the initial incident in both time and association while simultaneously providing more information about it and capturing the escalation of fear and death. Lonely Hearts Killer is a chronicle of the end of an era; the world is turned upside down and society’s values are inverted. The novel can be both disconcerting and disorienting. People become so consumed by a culture of fear that they come to rely and depend on it. Any challenge to the system is seen as dangerous and the media’s role in its perpetuation is largely ignored by the general population. Things become so twisted around and perverted that it is those who would try to refuse to participate in the violence around them who are deemed abnormal and deviants by society at large.
In addition to the novel itself, the English edition of Lonely Hearts Killer also includes an introduction by the translator and a newly written preface by the author as well as a question and answer session between the two. I found this material to be particularly valuable in putting the work into a greater context. The death of an emperor and the demise of the emperor system is a rare topic in Japanese literature. Lonely Hearts Killer is a very political work although much of its message is left up to the readers’ individual interpretations. The novel has the potential for multiple analyses, including both anarchist and pacifist readings. I personally appreciate this ambiguity; it’s one of the reasons that I find Hoshino’s work as a whole to be so interesting. As I’ve come to expect, Hoshino’s writing requires active engagement and thought on the part of his readers. The novel isn’t particularly easy reading, but the ideas, concepts, and themes that Hoshino deals with in Lonely Hearts Killer are incredibly unsettling, intriguing, and fascinating.