Five stars, read in January 2018.
I’ve had this post in my drafts for a few months now, because there was so much for me to work through. I did not expect the direction this book ended up taking, on more than one level. It was brilliant, disturbing, astonishingly incisive commentary on human nature and identity—and just a great story.
Hitoshi, the protagonist, pulls a “prank” in which he steals someone’s cell phone, calls that person’s mother pretending to be her son Daiki, and gets her to send him money. A few days later, the woman turns up at his apartment, believing he really is Daiki. And when Hitoshi goes home to his own parents, they don’t recognize him; there is already someone else living there, using his name. With no other options, he begins to live as Daiki—working at his same job, with his same coworkers, who now call him Daiki as though that’s who he’d been all along.
Far from the entire plot of the book, though, this is only the beginning. Daiki-formerly-Hitoshi meets up with new-Hitoshi, and they begin to meet other “MEs” who are also themselves. It gets difficult to follow, as more MEs turn up and become indistinguishable from each other. Identities meld and disappear, and the most disturbing thing is how easily people adapt to the new narrative every time it changes. Daiki-formerly-Hitoshi has a friend at work, Yasokichi, who ends up leaving for a different job. Daiki is shocked by how savagely the employees talk about him from them on, though he’d always been “a totally harmless guy.” But even Daiki, who starts out defending Yasokichi, ends up succumbing to the new narrative in which “Yaso” is their term for someone who embodies all the worst traits.
At one point, Daiki discovers that another coworker—with whom he’s had an ongoing feud since before the transformation—is a ME. This is horrifying to him, but he decides that if they’re the same person, their enmity must be gone now. He approaches the other ME who says to him, essentially, you thought that just because I’m you, you’d automatically be comfortable with me? I hadn’t been able to tell what the author was doing before that; it was like being too close to something very big, but then with this conversation I suddenly saw it from the perfect height and distance. This was the twist.
I was wrong, though—it wasn’t the twist. It was a twist, only one, as it turned out, of many. Every time I thought Hoshino had come to his point, the frame would widen and I’d realize that once again, I’d only been looking at a part of the whole.
This is a book I’ll be able to read over and over again, because I think I’ll see something different every time I do. In each stage of the MEs’ transformation, there are questions and observations about human nature, the illusions we build ourselves, the ways we adapt to our environment, the influence of society and family on our perception of ourselves and the choices we make. It’s a fascinating, unsettling book, and I highly recommend it.
Realizing that my headphones, book, and throw blanket all matched.