The Master Key
by Masako Togawa
Translated by Simon Grove
First published in Japanese in 1962
Penguin/Random/Pushkin Vertigo 3/27/2018
As you know if you visit my blog regularly, I quite enjoy Japanese literature, both recent and classic. I’m thrilled I got the opportunity to discover Masako Togawa, an important author who died only a couple of years ago, and to present her famous The Master Key, a really ingenious mystery.
As many Japanese novels, The Master Key is complex.
Not in its setting, as it basically focuses on a “K Apartments for Ladies” building in the 1950s, and the period when it’s scheduled to be moved with all its inhabitants in it, in order to widen a street.
The complexity is rather in the chronology and in the characters.
Early on, we see a couple of people burying the body of a child in the basement of that building. But there’s a lot more going on!
The book is written in 8 parts, with parts during the construction work, then 6, 4, and 3 months before.
If you are not familiar with the Japanese language, I highly encourage you to take notes to keep track of the characters name, to remember who’s who, and how they are connected. Lots of the women involved all live in that same apartment building, but they all have their own story and past, that will be slowly revealed as we go along.
It’s really neat that this revelation will take place symbolically and concretely thanks to a master key and its own journey… from pocket to pocket!
More symbols can be seen, as the digging in the foundations of the building will also allow many hidden secrets to surface.
And when you think all is clear, here comes the last part, with its denouement and final surprises, that I had not seen coming at all.
The whole of human life is contained in books. Love, desire, success and failure, death and grief… they’re all there, in the world of books.
I really enjoyed the ingenuity of the work, under an apparent simplicity, and the characters, some high in color, with great gifts at gossiping!
This is definitely a great illustration of masterful manipulation.
VERDICT: An ingenious classic Japanese mystery giving us a masterful lesson in manipulation!
HAVE YOU READ THIS BOOK?
What’s your favorite Japanese classic?
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