Nagaru Tanigawa interviews Honobu Yonezawa!

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(Source: Honobu Yonezawa and the Classics Club)

Nagaru Tanigawa is an author whose debut work The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya1, won the Grand Prize for the 8th Sneaker Award in 2003. His other works include Let’s leave the School.

Q: Are there any authors whose works have influenced your literary style in any way, regardless of whether they write mysteries?

A: Tsumao Awasaka2, but his frontier of refined simplicity is too far for me. The inner emotions of his characters are not directly written on the pages, and yet their mental states are keenly transmitted to the reader. I found that to be a formidable tool. In that sense, rather than being influenced by Tsumao Awasaka, I aspire to be like him.

I have tried to emulate Mikihiko Renjo’s3 writing, but it proved to be impossible. Also, whenever I read Juran Hisao4 or Futaro Yamada’s5 works, I will want to write like them, but it is probably impossible. Putting aside the problem of having the elementary knowledge of it, I believe that my type of writing is different.

I think there is an author whose writing style is similar to mine, but it would be impertinent for me to say it here, so I will tell you secretly some time. His literary style is really interesting, and I will never get tired of it.

Q: You must have read numerous books for as long as you can remember. Out of all those books, could you name the best 3 or 5 stories that were able to make you laugh from the bottom of your heart? Not limited to mysteries, of course.

A: When I was a kid, I used to laugh at anything, but as for whether I will still find it interesting now…… It’s awful; I had already forgotten the names of the books quite a while ago.

I do remember something funny, and it was related to a proofreading error, where Sartre was written as Saru (monkey). I have no idea why and how I came across that, but another book that I recently read, Book of Misprints, contained that error, and that made me nostalgic.

You said that I’m not limited to mysteries, but Berkeley’s Top Storey Murder was a story that made me laugh. He sometimes writes to make fun of people who read too many mysteries, and Top Storey Murder was the most fun out of his stories.

A story that I laughed at for the plot is Siniac’s Rabbit Cuisine Tastes of Murder. It’s amazing that it’s funny not because of the sentences or the structure, but because of the plot itself. None of the characters have any sense of restraint; the latter half of the story made me burst out in laughter.

H. G. Wells’ The Stolen Bacilius/My First Aeroplane, which was recently released (in Japanese), also made me laugh a lot. There were many works that give off a bad taste when they try to ironically mock society, but I remember being thoroughly entertained by this book.

Q: I often fantasize that if John Dickson Carr6 were still alive today, he would be creating a huge number of astounding locked room tricks which make use of the latest technology. If you could revive a deceased mystery author and somehow make them write a book, whose soul would you summon? Please give your reasons for your choice.

A: Indeed, I would like to see how Carr would take in the development of the study of history.

I would like to slowly think about this question, but the more I think about it, the more have the feeling that even if I call back an author who has reached the end of their natural lifespan, they will not be able to produce another book. If that is the case, I would rather call upon authors who pass away before they managed to realize their ambitions, since calling on those who have gone past their natural lifespan would be a bother for them……

Authors like On Watanabe7 and Kō Kitamori8 come to mind.

Q: There have been many stories written in the style of The Finishing Stroke9. What do you think is required for it to work effectively? Please tell me the composition of elements such as plot, tricks, logic, direction and showiness. You could say that it requires 60% idea, 30% logic and 10% thrill, for example.

A: Sorry for twisting your premise, but actually, I do not really prioritize writing in the style of The Finishing Stroke. I believe that by only placing emphasis on the element of surprise, the story would turn into just a box of surprises. Of course, a mystery would be desolate without some surprises. If we assume that there are a lot of stories like The Finishing Stroke, I would say that it is because the authors like the feeling of lowering the curtain suddenly, right after they have finished writing whatever is necessary.

Back to the question, I recently heard this answer from Ayatsuji-sensei10, and I have been influenced by it. As he said, it is all about putting the readers in the right mood. If done well, even mysteries where it comes as no surprise as to who the culprit is can leave a strong impression. I thought that to be an excellent idea.

Q: As you read more mystery stories, the more you get tired of typical mysteries, and begin to yearn for better excitement, perhaps with a more unexpected culprit, more acrobatical logic, or more insane tricks; when you finally get to the strong medicine like irregular conjugation, meta-narratives and anti-mysteries, you come full circle, return to the orthodox mysteries, and the loop repeats. Do you see the mystery genre undergoing such dramatic changes in the future?11

A: Damn, I think I might have answered this question a little with the previous answer. Would mysteries undergo a fundamental change? I think that local change could certainly happen. Someone is bound to come up with a style that no one else has thought of before. However, even if that translates into a temporary movement, I believe that the mystery genre as a whole will not change fundamentally.

Aren’t fresh styles and structures the necessary product of the complicity between the reader and writer, based on the act of reading mysteries? I personally think that it’s interesting for that to be true, and I have actually written about it before (about the “complicity between reader and writer”, not the “fresh styles and structures”). However, on second thoughts, that is not the main thread of the story. With a strong setting, the variants that play around with cliches will appear, I believe.

I think that I probably want to see that in mysteries, or rather, I think that the best approach would be to aim for the completion of the story while applying those techniques to the mystery aspect. For that, you would have to disdain from wanting readers to have the assumption that mysteries are supposed to go a certain way, no matter how much you like it. I suppose that is why I do not want the mystery genre to go through internal changes and end up with a dramatic metamorphosis.

Wait a minute, you asked me whether it was possible if such change was possible, but I think my answer was about whether I desire such change. Sorry for that.

Q: This is a consultation rather than a question. As I get older each year, I have gradually come to realize that it is difficult to live in this world with only the belief that human nature is fundamentally good. If you have some sort of secret method to live a carefree life, please share it with me. Not that I’m accusing you of being a carefree person, of course.

A: Everyone will die eventually. It should be fine if you are aware of that fact, right?

  1. If you haven’t read this yet, I highly recommend this series to you. It has a really interesting setting, with time travelers, aliens and espers, as well as an extremely unique main character who prides himself on his eclectic snark. Also, if you are interested, I am currently translating the series’ latest short story, Seven Wonders Overtime.
  2. A mystery author who was known for works such as Kijutsu tantei Soga Kajo zenshu (The Complete Cases of Magician Detective Kajo Soga) and Midare karakuri (A Trick Goes Awry).
  3. An author who wrote popular fiction and mystery novels. His most notable work is Kakuregiku (The Hidden Chrysanthemum), which has been adapted into a drama recently.
  4. An author of popular fiction in Showa period Japan, he was a pioneer in the use of black humor in Japanese literature.
  5. An author who wrote many ninja and mystery stories.
  6. American author of detective stories, generally regarded as one of the greatest writers of the so-called “Golden Age mysteries” (complex, plot-driven stories in which the puzzle is paramount), and was a master of locked room mysteries.
  7. A Japanese author of mystery and fantasy stories, who passed away in 1930 when he was only 27.
  8. A mystery author who passed away in 2001 at the age of 48.
  9. A 1958 mystery novel written by Ellery Queen, about a detective who fails to solve two murders in 1930 but manages to figure it out in 1957 after gaining decades of experience.
  10. Refers to Yukito Ayatsuji, a famous mystery-horror writer who also had an interview with Honobu Yonezawa, which I will be translating some time soon.
  11. The original question was in one sentence. Nagaru Tanigawa is a beast.

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