Labyrinth, by Yoshinori Shimizu, was an unexpectedly engrossing read. I came cross it quite by chance, and thought, why not? I've liked a few Japanese mysteries in the past, it's been a while since I read anything of that sort, and this novella was short enough that I figured I had nothing to lose. I did, in fact, lose a little bit of sleep over it, both staying up late to read but also puzzling over some of the novel's intentions and implications.
"It seems rather tedious."
"There's no other way to do this. Let's imagine that I was able to tell you what sort of person you were, what your history was, and the sort of lifestyle you led. You'd probably believe me. You'd know your name, your address, and your age. That sort of thing. But that wouldn't mean you'd have your memory back. You'd only know those particular facts — you wouldn't have remembered them. You don't need to know what actually happened in this crime for the treatment to be effective. Don't think about it that way. Your job is to remember, and that's what you need to concentrate on."
I wanted to tell him not to mess with me. I didn't want to be manipulated. The doctors and the treatment specialist must know that people with amnesia feel this way. They wanted me to remember, but I was terrified of the prospect. I trembled in fear imagining what I might see when I was able to see into my past. I wanted to run away and hide. I didn't want my memory back.
I didn't have any choice, though. We patients had no say in our treatment.
The first mystery posed by the novel is that of its narrator. Who is the patient? Further, what is the nature of this treatment and why must it be undergone? Who is the therapist?
The patient, as part of the treatment, is made to read various accounts of a murder, including the official police record, some newspaper articles, interviews, and a novelistic treatment of the crime.
The crime itself is a bit gruesome, but the facts of it, including the identity of the murderer, are established early on. A young professional woman is found (by her boyfriend) dead in her apartment, her genitals removed (and later found to have been preserved by the murderer). The murderer later explains that this was not a sexual act, but one of ultimate love, which he quite confuses with ownership and control. This bit of Manamis's flesh represented the core of her, of her being a woman and why he loved her, and now he could own her, love her, forever.
The real mystery is to do with the identity of the patient and his relationship to the therapist. It's not difficult to guess, but one traverses a philosophical labyrinth before arriving at any answers. "I might have just gone too far into the labyrinth of the human heart."
This labyrinth may turn off a lot of readers. There is not a lot of action or even suspense here — just questions, at every turn. Whose version of events is to be believed. What makes one source more credible than another? To what extent is motive essential to establishing a crime, or to understanding it? What constitutes legal insanity? Does identity exist without memory? Can there be culpability if there is no memory? Is the essence of a woman really her genitals? (Of course not!) Should artists be held responsible (culpable?) for inspiring crime?
My fascination with Labyrinth lies at its intersection with the works of Simenon. What makes normal people walk away from that normalcy — whether forever or just for an instant?
Can you really say that you knew a guy who committed a crime, and that he always seemed capable of doing it? Do murderers act like potential murderers from the time they are children? I really don't think so. They're probably not much different from anybody else.
And then something happens. Something that pushes them over the edge and they do it. At that point they become a different person from who they had been. I don't believe you can pinpoint a type of person as a future criminal. When he was in high school, he was nothing but . . . a gloomy introvert. Then something happened and he went nuts.
Who knows? I might be a criminal ten years from now. We don't know what causes people to go crazy. But whatever happens, criminals aren't living lives that take them directly to crime. It doesn't work that way.