Book Review: Fish Swimming in Dappled Sunlight by Rinku Onda

Title: Fish Swimming in Dappled Sunlight

Author: Riku Onda

Genre: Psychological Thrillers

Number of Pages: 204

Rating: B-

Recommended?: Yes


Okay, this book was… weird? It was intriguing by I was expecting more from it. I think it’s one of those instances where I liked the title and cover art more than the actual story. The set-up is good but I never felt like I really connected with the material, which is the case for me with a lot of Japanese novels. Maybe it’s a cultural thing but I think it has more to do with the way they usually read after being translated to English.

I’m going to get into some major spoilers here, so in case you didn’t see the big-ass header at the top of the review *THIS IS GOING TO GET SPOILER-Y, DON’T SAY IS DIDN’T WARN YOU.* Are you still here? Good. The main character, Aki and Hiro, are boyfriend and girlfriend until they find out they’re actually twin siblings (yikes.) They move in together to ‘get to know each other better as family’ but there’s all kinds of sexual frustration and tension. It’s all very awkward and very Japanese.

They decide to go on a trek with a man they believe to be their father but he mysteriously falls to his death during the excursion. Both Aki and Hiro thinks the other did it and is trying to extract a confession. Most of the book takes place with the two of them holed up in their apartment, which they’re about to move out of. The plot unravels at a brisk pace as the two examine their childhood trauma and repressed memories come to light.

I found most of the ‘realizations’ they come to (mostly Aki, she’s the brains of the operation) to seem like wild mental leaps. Like, how did she get from here to there so quickly? The story is told in both Aki and Hiro’s voices but it’s very hard to separate the two viewpoints. They feel pretty much identical and I had to keep double-checking whose perspective I was reading.

I thought it was hilarious how when they found out they were first cousins (not twin siblings, as they had originally believed) it was actually a turn-off. Ah, Japan. As John Oliver put it, ‘America’s pervy uncle.’ I kept expecting them to succumb to their forbidden feelings sooner or later and go full Lannister. It was pretty hard to believe that they had never slept together before they found out, considering how long they were dating. Fortunate, but it still strained creditably. I immediately found it disturbing how unfazed they were upon realizing they were related.

On the upside, it was a quick read that held my interest throughout, it might have ultimately been underwhelming but the quick pace combined with questions and suspense ensured I was never bored. I also liked the claustrophobic setting and the fact that the vast majority of the book took place over the course of one night. The focus on two characters was interesting, with their rapid-fire dialogue and suspicions about each other’s roles in the guide’s death. making up the majority of the book. It wasn’t a bad book by any means but there was a lack of emotional resonance for me. I didn’t really care about either of the characters and while the ending kind of surprised me, I didn’t have any strong feelings about it.

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