The Gun by Fuminori Nakamura is an #OwnVoices Japanese psychological thriller novel that I was eager to pick up after reading another one of the author’s works, from the same genre, called Last Winter, We Parted, more so since The Gun is his debut work. While I was not entirely sure what to expect, I know that I did not believe it would be as multi-faceted as it was in terms of the myriad themes explored and the intensity of an event that did not feel like it could be construed as supremely extraordinary.
The Gun is about a young man, a college student named Nishikawa, who is out on a stroll in the middle of a rainy night, when he comes across the scene of a crime. There he discovers a lone gun lying in a pool of blood. Drawn in by the presence of the weapon, he steals it and quickly flees the scene. Afterwards, Nishikawa begins to feel an unusually great sense of power and purpose by having possession of the gun. These new feelings will lead him down a twisted web of deceit and denial, until an overwhelming urge to fire the weapon becomes his obsession, to the point where this yearning transforms into a dangerously compulsory climax.
So many aspects make The Gun an astounding feat of psychological literature. It’s fast-paced, has a character that I empathised with while disliking him, layer and layers of contemplative motifs pertaining to the human psyche, an exploration of the most basic human actions and beliefs, and a climax that left me writhing for more.
I began reading The Gun around 3:30am in my corner of the world and immediately fell compelled to keep going. Originally, I only planned to read the first couple of chapters for a taste of what’s to come and by the time my eyes became too exhausted for me to continue, I had blown through the first half of the book, at about ninety to one-hundred pages. The narrative is incredibly fast-paced and unputdownable. As clichéd as it may sound, the fascination that I felt with Nishikawa’s circumstances would be akin to recognising the train wreck that is about to happen before your eyes and being wholly unable to look away. It drives you to keep staring until that collision, only in my case it was to keep reading.
This is one of its strongest traits. I have read quite a few psychological thrillers this year that would have been near-perfect if they only picked up the pace a bit. The quality, if written to match the narrative, is critical in creating suspense and tension with a decent progression, which The Gun has done brilliantly.
The ambiance that the reader is introduced to in the first ten pages is one that is quite melancholy and lonely. Nishikawa is out on a stroll in the middle of the night. Then it begins raining. He doesn’t like walking in the rain, but his life is so mundane, and he is feeling so utterly apathetic with his existence, that he continues to let the rain wash over him. The descriptions of his surroundings, told via the lens of his persona, made me feel glum, yet apprehensive. I knew something bad was going to happen; if not bad then darkly twisted. After he acquired the gun, my pulse quickened and my fingers grasped the pages a bit tighter. Nothing good would come out of him finding a weapon, particularly where he was more fascinated by it than the fact that there was a dead body lying about.
This entire scene, or sequence, sets up the foundation for everything to follow—decisions that Nishikawa makes, the events unfolding around Nishikawa as life passes him by, the what-the-fuck finale, even the overall tone and mood of the book, which is sensationally uncomfortable. That discomfort never went away either.
The book focuses on heavy themes, which can really lead to some introspective thinking, and that only adds layer after layer to the top of whatever unease that I was already feeling from watching this kid spiral with grotesque obsession. A few themes that I talked about in-depth with Sir Betrothed included: the importance of stricter gun control (or any realm of gun control, which some countries vehemently refuse to sign on for); humanity’s obsession with inanimate objects to the point where their lives will pass them by while they remain hung up on said object (i.e.: cell phones are an excellent example of this); the desire to have constant stimuli for your brain or emotions and how when one level of stimuli no longer has an effect, we as humans go searching for the next and the next, until we find something that leads towards extreme or dangerous impulses (i.e.: like shooting a random gun you found in the street). We focused mostly on Japanese society with that last one as the book is Japanese and that theme specifically is remarkably explored in the novel, more so when you consider how easy it is for a country as advanced as Japan to get bored with what they have and easily go searching for the next tier of supreme neurological brain stimulus.
Yet, there is one more theme that is prevalent while simultaneously being subtle that I connected with the absolute most: the emotional and mental combustion that occurs from always avoiding your problems for the sake of never wanting to feel sad, mad, or anything between the realm of those two things. The protagonist is someone who, in an effort to avoid having to think about sad things so he wouldn’t feel bad about the tragedies in his life, inadvertently takes on sociopathic tendencies because of this avoidance. By never allowing himself to feel anything, he never experiences any sort of emotional growth or development. This is exhibited by his actions and behaviour while in possession of the gun. From my own personal experience, when one person decides that it is better to ignore their emotions and negative thought processes, the more acute and severe the consequences or the effects of those feelings shall be, leading to one bitching hell of a break-down, or as I’ve mentioned before, mental combustion.
Nakamura as an author is able to deliver all of these motifs in a soft and unnoticeable means—I would even go as far as to say insidious manner—while keeping the storyline focused, short (the book is only 198 pages), and marvellously intricate in terms of intellective depth. The writing style is terse, straightforward, and hauntingly idiosyncratic, which is all stunningly expressed via the incredible translation done by Ms Allison Markin Powell. Did I mention that this is his first novel?
Suffice to say, if you are a reader that enjoys intelligent psychological thrillers and you don’t mind reading something that is exquisitely twisted and dark, then I recommend The Gun to you. However, if you don’t like content that can be too graphic or skin-crawlingly uncomfortable, then you may want to pass on it. There are some content triggers to keep in mind as well: a graphic scene of a cat abuse/death that is very difficult to stomach and rape (both an attempt of and the physical act). I am not someone who can stomach any kind of cat abuse or violent death at all, and because of that my personal rating for this book is lowered by one star.