Review: Evil and the Mask by Fuminori Nakamura

Evil and the Mask by Fuminori NakamuraThe second book by prize-winning Japanese novelist Fuminori Nakamura to be available in English translation, a follow-up to 2012’s critically acclaimed The Thief─another fantastically creepy, electric literary thriller that explores the limits of human depravity─and the powerful human instinct to resist evil.
 
When Fumihiro Kuki is eleven years old, his elderly, enigmatic father calls him into his study for a meeting. “I created you to be a cancer on the world,” his father tells him. It is a tradition in their wealthy family: a patriarch, when reaching the end of his life, will beget one last child to dedicate to causing misery in a world that cannot be controlled or saved. From this point on, Fumihiro will be specially educated to learn to create as much destruction and unhappiness in the world around him as a single person can. Between his education in hedonism and his family’s resources, Fumihiro’s life is one without repercussions. Every door is open to him, for he need obey no laws and may live out any fantasy he might have, no matter how many people are hurt in the process. But as his education progresses, Fumihiro begins to question his father’s mandate, and starts to resist.

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Review

Evil and the Mask turned out to be one of those stories I was far from expecting. I was expecting a suspenseful atmosphere with in-depth, unsettling thrills to make you question humanity and the darkness inside us. Instead I was presented with idealistic theories of humanity’s deep-seated insecurities, laziness derived obedience, and selective ignorance.

I warmed up to the characters quite quickly and the idea of a family’s insane custom; to create a child to be a cancer in the world. When you first begin the story, it’s difficult not be swept away by the creepiness of Fumihiro’s father calling his son into his study and revealing the reason his son exists. The atmosphere is fantastic in that scene and I couldn’t help questioning the sheer audacity Fumihiro’s father had when it came to believing he could procreate expressly to cause havoc in the world.

What type of sick and twisted individual could believe such a thing? It’s arrogant, it’s conceited, and extremely narcissistic. The idea, the questions it creates, sets up the atmosphere and your expectations for the rest of the story.

I thoroughly enjoyed the beginning and reading about Fumihiro’s early life, as well as the foundations for how he will turn out as a character. I found myself wanting nothing bad to happen to either Fumihiro his adopted sister.

The story took a turn I wasn’t expecting. I don’t believe the protagonist ever really had to struggle with his inner darkness in the way the synopsis portrays, but there is definitely a struggle present. With the turn in the story it only amplifies the process we all go through of trying to understand ourselves.

Unfortunately I felt Evil and the Mask began to drag after the halfway mark. Each dialogue exchange began to sound like every other one and none of the characters gave an impression of differentiation when they spoke. You were able to look into Fumihiro’s head and read his ideas. These ideas and thoughts were echoed in dialogue and then again when another character shared their thoughts with Fumihiro.

By the end of Evil and the Mask I felt I was reading a platform for the author to share their speculations rather than creating questions via character and story. It’s a shame really. I was thoroughly looking forward to reading something to question morals, ethics, and human depravity. Unfortunately I’m not quite sure what the story ended up questioning and I don’t feel Fumihiro grew as a character.

Evil and the Mask is one of those stories where you’re not reading for the action, the emotion, or the pull, but more for ideas on human self-conditioning, self awareness, and finally self acceptance.

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