The Master Key by Masako Togawa (Japanese Literature Challenge 12)

The novel begins with a woman wearing a red scarf being struck by a car and killed. Only, she is not a woman, but a man, as was later discovered by the medical examiner.

Suddenly the story shifts to an earlier time, where this man has carried a Gladstone bag which is apparently quite heavy (for within it is the body of a child), into a building. He and a woman bury it in the floor of a bath house which has long been in disuse.

Leaving all that behind, the story continues with the people who live in an apartment building solely for women. There is a strange assortment of characters, from the receptionist who sneaks naps while at her desk, to the concert violinist whose middle finger became paralyzed in her thirties, to the woman who steals fish heads and bones to build up her calcium, to a retired teacher. (Like me.) Who relieves her loneliness by writing to all her former students one by one, thereby bringing the mystery to its conclusion.

I liked this novel, but I did not love it. The mystery was clever enough, yet I found the translation irritating in many places. Not that I can read Japanese; the English simply sounded forced.

While spending the month here in Florida, I plan to indulge myself in translated literature. I have begun the rightfully praised trilogy of Miklós Bánffy, They Were Counted, and then I shall pick up Ruth Ozeki’s Tales for The Time Being.

In the meantime, it thrills my heart that so many bloggers have joined The Japanese Literature Challenge 12, and are reading such exciting books. I will publish a post of links soon.

21 thoughts on “The Master Key by Masako Togawa (Japanese Literature Challenge 12)”

    1. It started out so very intriguing, but I must confess that the hype for this made my expectations too high. I did not like it as much as I expected to, even though the conclusion was far more satisfactory than most of the American mystery rubbish being published lately.


  1. Tale for the Time Being is one of my favourite books of all time (though it’s not translated, Ozeki is Canadian), I hope you enjoy it. The Togawa sounds interesting, though it would frustrate me too if the translation was a bit stiff.

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  2. While I enjoyed the mystery side of this novel, I have to agree with you on the translation – it did sound forced at times and didn’t flow as naturally and easily as it could have. Will you be picking up Togawa’s other mystery novel, ‘The Lady Killer’, in the future?


  3. I look forward to hearing your thoughts about Bánffy. I read the trilogy last year and posted about it. Took me a while to tune in to him, but it was worth the effort. All those names like anagrams and the convoluted Austro-Hungarian politics were tough going, though. Terrific central narrative.


  4. I am halfway through it, and I adore it. I only wish I had read it with you earlier. I have had to write a list of the major characters on the back inside cover; is that a travesty? 😊

    I would like to talk about it with you when I finish. But, for now let me say I agree with all the praise I heard which made me interested in the first place.

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    1. Re Bánffy: no travesty – I did the same. Started with a list of who was who, then a chapter by chapter summary to help me keep up. But it does all start to cohere, and the political bits can be assimilated while focusing on the central characters


      1. I must admit to being more interested in the relationships than the politics! I suspect things will happen between Adrienne and Balint…I love him going to his mother’s who has been taken advantage of by the two women and the smarmy lawyer. Right now he has built a tent in the forest, in the Winter, and I feel I am there with him. Even the descriptions are interesting. I am “comforted” that you wrote notes, too.


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