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Bizarre mix of folklore, philosophy & crime,
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This review is from: The Summer of the Ubume (Paperback)
An ubume is the spirit of a woman who dies pregnant. Grieving for her dead child, she's always on the lookout for live babies to steal. She's having a field day in The Summer of the Ubume.
It's 1952, and Tokyo is still recovering from the war. Rumor says that several babies have gone missing from the Kuonji obstetrics clinic. Rumor also reports that a Kuonji daughter has been pregnant for twenty months! And her husband has vanished!
It will take a bevy of detectives to penetrate the multiple mysteries of the Kuonji family:
TThere's Enokizu, an eccentric visionary hired by a Ryoko Kuonji to find her sister's vanished husband. Then there's Kyogokudo - bookseller, Shinto priest and part-time exorcist who applies his penetrating intellect to the case. Then we have the narrator, Sekiguchi, depressive hack journalist with a mysterious desire to serve Ryoko. And finally there's Kiba, an actual police detective.
Early on, Kyogokudo lectures his friend Sekiguchi on reality vs. illusion. My attention frankly flagged after twenty-eight pages of this. But finally the pace picked up, and the plot became positively gothic, encompassing demons, deviants, possession, repression, colorful psychological aberrations and arcane herbal drugs. Amazingly, the author explains it all in terms of science, psychology and logic.
This is not my favorite Japanese novel. It's too over-the-top for my taste, but this very quality will appeal to many other readers. There's no doubt the book is inventive and original. And I did admire the author's passion for mischievous supernatural creatures. Natsuhiko Kyogoku is an expert on Japanese folklore.