Otsuichi is a surprising author. Reading Otsuichi is like walking through a forest at dusk. Strips of sunlight illuminate the verdure but past the edges, in the dark, there are things waiting. They are patient, they are watching, but just out of sight. They’ll brush against you if you get too close. Perhaps more than anything else, his books are preoccupied with death.
He contrasts light with darkness, moulds them within the story, and these juxtapositions deepen them both. While you’re reading the shifts become so effortless that it almost seems like the events were predestined, something like a natural order being revealed.
There is an irresistible undercurrent of the macabre in these stories, and a deep curiosity in it. When these themes of light and dark collide the resultant reaction coruscates through everything that follows. It’s an enviable skill for a writer. He is restrained and impressive in maintaining an atmosphere, a tension.
The first thing I read from Otsuichi was Goth. It follows the story of a young man and woman who bond over their mutual interest in the macabre. Their hometown happens to be a lodestone for serial killers and unnatural events. Things are placid on the surface but there is an undertow of violence and death. It is fascinating how natural the unnatural becomes in his work.
Since reading Goth I’ve read a collection of small novellas called Summer Fireworks and My Corpse. I also have another anthology called Zoo but have yet to read it. Based on my experience with Goth, though, Summer Fireworks was true to form lived up to the quality that I found in Goth. I was amazed to discover that he wrote this during high school. The titular story is a short novella that is written from the perspective of a young girl who has died, narrating the aftermath of her death and the actions of her killers. It was wholly unique and did not disappoint. It’s short but it really goes a long way to encapsulate the darker aspects of humanity, the cruelty of children, and the fleeting fragility of life. It is writing with a maturity and delicacy that I wouldn’t expect of somebody that age.
The second novella is called Black Fairy Tale – the blurb on the jacket likens it to a more classic Japanese horror story but I found that description to be too prosaic. It feels like that comparison is a little diminutive or formulaic. The story follows a girl who loses an eye in an accident and as a result of the injury becomes an amnesiac. The story begins with her difficulty in recovering and fitting back into her old life with none of the memories who she was. He explores the uncomfortable realities of her strained and broken relationships with friends and family who continue to have significant expectations of someone that has ceased to exist – so much so that it was almost a relief when the story shifts, the hook appears, and the eye she received in a transplant begins to reveal to her what seems to be the memories of the previous owner.
Otsuichi is a deft hand at building tension and pressure, while seeding stories with enough mystery to remain compelling. Those aspects and his innate ability to contrast themes are pillars of his work. I just had to know what was going to happen next, even in the midst of tension, stress, and dread. These stories creep around in the lizard brain of the reader. You’ll encounter sociopaths, psychopaths, and unlikely heroes – and they’ll act just like anybody you might pass in the street, none the wiser of what they might be hiding at home, or behind their eyes.
The atmosphere of these books weave through the spectrum from the elegiac to the cheerful and embody something unique. The stories can be meditative and contemplative and mysterious in equal measures while also exploring the quiet depravity of a serial killer. There is almost a clinical detachment at times, like that of a scientist objectively observing an experiment – there is a sense of abstract curiosity in these moments that can sometimes remove the horror and replace it with a strange sense of tranquility. It’s an odd feeling.
It’s obvious that Otsuichi’s fascination is rooted in death. He doesn’t cheapen it nor is he grotesque for the sake of it, to shock or unsettle, he just seems to be exploring these ideas and shapes of it using characters who live in close proximity to it. He writes and speculates to delve into the mystery of it. These characters are like little dark stars emitting a gravity of their own and the stories start when they begin to tug people into their orbit through their actions and compulsions.
Otsuichi is a fascinating writer and well worth your time should this sort of thing suit your taste. His works are all available through the kindle store and they are also available in print – but I’ve found paperback copies to be difficult to source. Most of his work is from the late 90’s to the late 00’s. If do happen to track down a copy I’d strongly suggest adding him to your collection.