Shadow Family – Miyuki Miyabe
October 22, 2009 § 9 Comments
Before embarking on my attempt to put my thoughts into bytes, I would like to put forward this one simple question:
What constitutes a family?
Is it enough to have a mother, father, and perhaps one or two siblings? Is that what a family is?
Shadow Family is a mystery story. Two people get murdered within a couple of days of each other, and seemingly unrelated. But thread from a striking blue parka left on both crime scenes soon prove to the police that things are more than meets the eye. Meeting dead end after dead end, one of the officers come up with a theory that could potentially make or break the mystery behind the curious deaths.
And it is here that the story finally starts to reveal itself.
One of the victims had, during the one year or so before his tragic death, been part of an online ‘family’. He called himself ‘Dad’, and his family consisted of ‘Mom’, ‘Minoru’, and ‘Kazumi’. A 4-member family. A typical family set-up, only that it was all virtual.
Upon finding out about this make-believe family, how does the real-life family respond? And how do these deaths reveal the truth behind all the pain, anger and loneliness?
Personally, I feel that the mystery in this plot is not at all strong. In fact, I felt like I already knew who the culprit was half-way through the book. However, I also feel that the redeeming point of this book is how the story unfolds. The mystery of the plot itself may not have been its strongest virtue, but certainly the way the characters were introduced, and how certain things were thrown into light just when you least expect it… These make the plot feel less significant.
We’re made to think, exactly why does a man with his own family go in search for a virtual family on the Internet? What drives a person to such measures? Then we are given a chance to see things from the wife’s perspective. How would one feel if her husband were to find another ‘wife’ on the Internet? Does one feel lonely? Does one feel like a failure?
How about the people with whom this man forms a ‘family’ with? Why does one choose to be the virtual daughter of a stranger?
On the face of it, this is a mystery story. But underlying this story is the undeniable search for connection. Under the surface of it all, is the question of how each different person reacts to a given set of circumstances. How does one overcome feelings of loneliness and desperation?
At the end of it all, when family ties start to tangle up into a big mess, or maybe fray away at the ends, what is it that holds the family unit together?
This is the kind of story that you need to finish, and sit on for a few days before making any conclusion about it. The many layers within the story are laid upon each other lightly and subtly, but one can hardly ignore the very strong themes that reside within them.
Postscript: This qualifies for the Japanese Literature Challenge, but does it qualify also for the RIP IV Challenge, and also the Hello Japan! mini-challenge?
Postscript #2: This DOES in fact qualify! =)