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Manga Appreciation Week: Book Review – Goth by Otsuichi

Title: Goth

Author: Otsuichi (Otsu-ichi)

Genre: Horror, Light Novel, Short Fiction


Publisher: TokyoPop
Publication Date: October 2008
Paperback: 240 pages

Stand Alone or Series: A stand alone collection of six connected short stories involving two high school students. The novel was adapted into a one and two-volume manga.

Summary: (from Amazon.com)
A notebook that leads to murder – a refrigerator filled with hands… a pit of dead dogs… an accidental suicide… a boy buried alive – and where two teenagers linked by an obsession with murder and torture explore the recesses of humanity’s dark side.

Why did I read this book: I had never heard of Goth or of its author, Otsuichi (on a sidenote, I love authors that are so badass they only have one name. Granted, it’s hard to pull this off if the name is “Pammy” or something, but it works for Otsuichi)–we received review copies of this novel along with our copies of The Wild Hunt from TokyoPop…so I had absolutely no idea what Goth was about, or what to expect…

When I received a review copy of this novel in the mail along with my copy of The Wild Hunt, I had absolutely no idea what this novel was about. I had never heard of it, had never seen it in the bookstore before. I didn’t even read the back cover. All I knew was that we had a manga week coming up, and that Goth qualified as one of my reads. Needless to say, I was completely taken unawares by these two hundred pages.

I mean, Holy Shnikies, Batman!

How can I describe my experience with Goth? It kind of feels like I’ve been blindsided by a runaway semi. Make that the evil semi with the Green Goblin face from Maximum Overdrive.

The Evil Green Goblin toy truck from Maximum Overdrive

THAT is how I feel about this disturbing, deliciously depraved novel. Goth is disturbing. It’s dark. It gets under your skin and stays there long after you’ve finished reading the slim volume…and I absolutely loved it (For the record, I love that Green Goblin truck from Maximum Overdrive. Who doesn’t love that movie?).

Goth is divided into six “chapters”, which are actually interconnected short stories involving the two main characters, an unnamed (until the last chapter) male narrator and a girl named Morino. Both characters are outsiders, though the narrator knows how to pretend and smile and chatter about everyday nothings with his classmates. Morino, on the other hand, does everything possible to separate herself from others–glazing over and ignoring anyone that tries to talk to her, wearing only black, expressing no emotions ever. What brings these two different characters together, however, is their shared fascination with death. Morino knows that the narrator puts on a front for the rest of the world, and one day after class she walks up to him:

I would answer if someone spoke to me, and I joked around enough to keep things friendly. I did the bare minimum to lead a normal life. But these were all surface relationships, and all the smiles I produced were lies.

The first time we spoke, Morino saw right through that part of me.

“Will you teach me how to smile like that?” she’d said, standing directly in front of me after school, no expression on her face at all. She must have scorned me for it, privately.

The book opens with the self titled chapter, “Goth”. Morino comes to talk to the narrator and shows him a small notebook she found in the bathroom of her tea house. A killer in their town has abducting two women, and then mutilated their bodies, leaving their remains arranged on different mountains to be discovered by an unlucky passerby. The notebook Morino has found holds a detailed account of both murders–including details that only the killer would be able to know. The book also holds record of a third girl’s murder, Mizuguchi Nanami, a victim who has not yet been discovered. Morino and the narrator travel to the mountain location named in the journal to see if there is a third undiscovered victim, and they find the remains of Nanami. Fascinated, Morino takes the dead girl’s bag and shredded clothes, and begins to dress like the unfortunate victim. That is, until Morino has attracted the attention of the killer, and the narrator receives a text message from Morino, that simply says “help”.

The second story titled “Wrist-cut” is a memory of the narrator’s. He sees Morino’s slender pale wrists while she is writing on a blackboard, and he remembers when earlier that year a “wrist cutter” villain was on the loose. The wrist cutter would attack his victims and sever their hands–leaving the victims alive, but keeping the hands as his trophies. The narrator inadvertently discovers who the hand collector is, and tries to set Morino up as the collector’s next victim.

If he had determined that Morino was the thief, causing him to cut off her hands and kill her, my plan would’ve been complete. I would’ve had to wait until her severed hands were in his fridge, and then I could’ve gone to steal them. Of course there were a number of holes in this plan: There was no guarantee he would have taken her hands home, even if he had killed her…but there was a good chance he would’ve.

The only I hands I had wanted were Morino’s pale, beautiful hands.

The third chapter, entitled “Dog”, features a string of pet abductions. It also uses another first person narrator as a young girl and her beautiful dog go to any lengths to protect themselves from her mother’s abusive boyfriend. Once again, the narrator discovers who is behind the crimes and reacts in his own, strange way.

The fourth story in this book, “Twins” is probably my favorite chapter in Goth. Morino begins the chapter with her complaints of insomnia, and she enlists the narrator to help her find a rope–like the one she used to have–to wrap around her neck and help her sleep at night.

“When I can’t sleep, I always wrap something around my neck, close my eyes, and imagine myself being strangled to death. Then, I can fall asleep–it feels like sinking deep under water.”

Though Morino and the narrator share a strange bond through their mutual fascination with death and the macabre, they aren’t exactly close. Nor are they friends. But in “Twins”, Morino opens up to the narrator and shares a little bit of her story, as the narrator discovers her secret past, and why Morino is so emotionally void.

“Twins” marks a haunting turning point in the novel–and the next two chapters, “Grave” and “Voice”, take a new direction especially so far as the narrator is concerned. In “Grave” a seemingly normal, friendly man succumbs to his darkest hidden desires, and he buries a neighbor’s toddler son alive in his garden. The man searches for his next victim, settling on a local high school girl–and once again, the narrator and Morino end up involved.

In the last story, “Voice”, a high school girl named Natsumi has just lost her older sister to a brutal murder. An unknown high school boy approaches Natsumi with a cassette tape that has Natsumi’s sister’s voice, as she makes a final confession before she dies. The boy splits the audio onto three cassettes, and tells Natsumi she can only hear the whole message if she follows his instructions, ultimately leading to her own murder.

From these brief chapter synopses, it is clear that Goth is no lighthearted romp–it is a journey into the deepest recesses of human depravity, and the end result is truly disturbing. It is easy to show blood and guts and senseless violence–just take a look at the soulless Saw franchise, or pick up any two-bit horror novel by Brian Keene. It’s another thing entirely to go a step further, to question WHY someone would want to maim and torture, to delve into the psyche of someone who is fascinated with these morbid displays and to convey this abject horror to an audience. This is what Goth does with aplomb.

The stitches holding together the assortment of horror in Goth are the characters of Morino and the narrator, and their strange bond. At first glance, Morino seems to be the driving force behind the events of Goth. With her long black hair and pale skin, Morino actually is a beautiful girl–but she pushes aside all outward vestiges of emotion and humanity. Initially I found myself completely turned off to Morino, and felt that she was the one of the pair that was the most terrifying for her lack of feeling. At least the narrator attempted his false front, whereas Morino stood stonefaced, wearing a dead girl’s clothes (in the story “Goth”). She keeps others at a distance and has done so ever since she was a young girl–the reasoning behind this morbid fascination with death, hanging ropes, and her hate of dogs is explored beautifully in “Twins”. And ever so gradually, the narrator and I discover that Morino is not devoid of emotion or feeling. Rather, she is so full of emotion, she has no idea how to express herself. Outwardly she is a blank slate, but inwardly she bleeds and cries just like any other person.

After reading “Twins” it became apparent to me that the truly horrific one, the monster of this story was not Morino, but the nameless narrator. The narrator is Morino’s opposite in every way. To his own family, to outsiders he is an outgoing, normal boy. Friendly. Funny. He sails through life without causing anyone to sit up and take notice of him.

And yet…he is completely devoid of humanity. This passage comparing the two says it best:

As I listened to Morino, I thought to myself that she was very sharp today.

In her eyes, there was no sign of that alien tinge I had seen in those of the killers I had met. She viewed humans as humans. She probably would never kill anyone. She might have unusual interests compared with other humans, but she was still normal.

Morino and I had many things in common–but on this, we differed. This difference was a fundamental one, the difference between humanity…and otherwise.

She was human, the side that always got killed.

I was not.

Goth is so masterful in that these perceptions of the narrator and Morino are completely turned inside out, gradually revealing who is human and who is not. At one point in the story, the narrator compares Morino to a girl in a movie he saw once. The movie is Beetlejuice, the girl is Lydia (played by Wynona Rider)–and at first I could not agree with the sentiment. Lydia in the film is “strange and unusual”, but she tries to be so. In Morino’s case, the initial picture of her is someone completely sick and demented, not that of a teen trying to make herself different as part of a cry for attention. And yet, as the novel continues, after reading “Twins” especially, the narrator’s assessment is spot on. And at the end Morino knows it too…but I won’t spoil that for you.

Suffice to say, the narrator is the one that will give me nightmares in all his cold indifference. Goth succeeds where so many movies and novels fail–instead of creating someone EEEEVIL or some sadistic, depraved supervillain, the narrator is the most terrifying avatar of them all. Because he is coldly, apathetically hollow.

A word on the title–there is nothing whatsoever to do with Goths or Goth culture in this book. In the author’s afterword, he apologizes for the misnomer and for seeming to label Goths as murderers or criminals. Although Morino wears only black and is obsessed with death, that’s about where the “goth” sentiments end.

Despite the misleading title, this is a darkly dazzling nightmare of a novel. Sure, it’s not without its faults (how many crazy murderers/maimers can there be in one small town?), but I still loved every second of it. I started reading this book and could not put it down–except to email Ana with my “Oh my GOD Goth is really good. And disturbing. DON’T READ IT!” sentiments. This is not a book for the faint of heart–but for those who want to truly be shaken by a horrific excursion into the darkest corners of the human mind, I cannot think of a better candidate.

Notable Quotes/Parts: I’ve quoted quite a bit, but my favorite part of this book has to be the last two pages.

Her lips were moving, muttering something, but I couldn’t make it out over the noise of the crowd–not until we left the crowd and had reached the spot where she’d left her bag.

“I think you’re my opposite…” she was whispering, over and over…”At first, I thought you were like me. You reminded me of my sister. But you aren’t. We’re nothing alike.”

Morino’s bag was a simple black one. I picked it up and put it in her hand. It fell to the ground a second later.

I picked it up again, putting her fingers around the handle, but it was useless. She was too out of it to hold on. Her fingers couldn’t stand up to the weight of the bag, and it slid right out of her hand.

“Sometimes, I think you’re smiling with nothing inside you at all…I’m sorry if you take that personally, but that’s what I always think when I see you acting happy around everyone else. And sometimes, I feel really sorry for you.”

She said all this without looking up at me. Her voice was trembling, like a child about to burst into tears.

“But I’m the reverse.”

She looked up now, looked me right in the eye. I was taller than her, and from this distance, she had to look up at me. Her expression was as blank as ever, but her eyes were a little red, and they seemed damp.

“I know,” I said.

Additional Thoughts: Goth put me in the mind of a few J-horror films that I adore–because they are so depraved. The first is Audition, from the notorious Takashi Miike.

The Audition torture scene

This is a slow, creeping horror movie, at times incomprehensible, but always terrifying. The last scene, involving piano wire and severed limbs gave me nightmares.

Another trippy film fans of Goth might like is Three Extremes.

A scene from The Box

This is a collection of three short films from three different Asian directors. The first and last films, “Dumplings” with Bai Ling, and “The Box” from Takashi Miike again, are my favorites and will haunt you long after they are finished.

There’s also the Japanese film Suicide Club, in which children and teens across the country decide to kill themselves–just to do it. I still have no idea what the whole movie means (what the eff is up with the ace bandage-like rolls of skin?!), but the general feeling of senseless detachment matches the feeling of this novel perfectly.

As for Goth itself, it was also adapted into manga format–however, I am hesitant to read the adaptation. The clipped, emotionless prose of the novel is part of its charm–the inner dialogue of the narrator is easily why I found this book to be so disturbing. The manga is necessarily stripped of this and of the narrator’s reptilian perceptions–and I don’t think the story would work nearly as well without them. Here are a few scans of the manga artwork…somehow, the novel just does it better for me.


Verdict: One of the best horror novels I have read in a long time–and I’m not usually a fan of this real-life murderer sort of horror (I’m much more of a supernatural horror kind of gal). Goth is a book that disturbed me profoundly…and I will definitely read it again and again. Highly recommended.

Rating: 9 Damn Near Perfection

Reading Next: The Tarot Cafe – The Wild Hunt by Chandra Rooney

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  • Ana
    January 14, 2009 at 1:51 am

    Wow šŸ˜Æ

    What a great review Thea. and I will make sure to stay away.

  • Thea
    January 14, 2009 at 9:11 am

    Aww, thanks dude. šŸ˜³

    I really, [i]really[/i] loved this book. Completely took me by surprise…but yeah, I’d still warn you to stay away, since I know you don’t like the super dark stuff! And holy crow, this book is as dark as they come. šŸ˜ˆ

  • Kris
    January 14, 2009 at 2:56 pm

    This sounds fascinating, Thea, but it also sounds as though it’s the type of thing I could watch but not read. My imagination is way too overactive to read realistic horror without it giving me nightmares for weeks.

  • Sweet
    January 14, 2009 at 3:18 pm

    I loved Audition, I don’t know what made me wince more the vomit or the torture scene. It takes a lot to disturb me and that movie did it.

    Great review, I’ll definitely have to check this out. I haven’t read or seen anything disturbing lately. šŸ˜ˆ

  • Thea
    January 14, 2009 at 4:31 pm

    Kris–I completely understand where you are coming from. Ana feels similarly to your position, and I respect that! It all boils down to whether or not you like that unsettling, horrific feeling…and I think I have a little Morino in me, since I love it šŸ˜ˆ

    Sweet–[i]Audition[/i] totally kicks ass. The bag! The creepy ballet! The wire! I usually don’t get creeped out by these sort of psychological horror films–it’s almost always the Samaras that get under my skin and have me reaching for the lights. But I have to fully agree with you, [i]Audition[/i] absolutely freaked me out. In a wonderful way.

    You’re in the mood to be disturbed? Definitely give [i]Goth[/i] a try! I’d be really interested in seeing what you think of this novel. I don’t think I’ve been so unsettled by a book since…hmmm. Honestly, probably not since I read [i]House of Leaves[/i] by Mark Danielewski.

  • Chandra
    January 14, 2009 at 9:12 pm

    GOTH made me feel dirty after I read it. I mean, I think it’s one of the most brilliant things I have ever read, but I couldn’t keep my ARC because I never wanted to read it again.

  • JWM
    January 22, 2009 at 10:59 pm

    This is probably the first decent review of Goth I’ve seen so far, and it masterfully details the horrific charm in the book. If I had to point out a single criticism of the review, it is simply that there was no comment on the obvious skills of the translator; someone who not only managed to work something from Japanese to a completely different language, but who also managed to capture the original psychology as well.

  • Thea
    January 23, 2009 at 8:48 am

    Chandra–I can understand your feelings šŸ™‚ I tried to lend my copy to a friend, who basically read the first few pages and said, “No way.”

    JWM–Thank you! And yes, you make an excellent point about the skilled translation. I think [i]Goth[/i] actually benefits from being translated to English–much of the disturbing atmosphere comes from the clipped, blunt tone of the narration, which seems to have been totally intentional on the part of the translator. Instead of embellishing or ‘smoothing over’ some of the passages, I love the raw, detached quality to the narrator’s voice. Truly a brilliant job by Andrew Cunningham.

  • RicG
    May 22, 2009 at 1:01 pm

    A great review of a surprisingly superb book. I tried to do Goth justice in a short review I left on Amazon, but you’ve managed to capture so many of the levels this book is working on. In spite of the clipped English of the translation, the imagery is truly stunning as is the emotional whiplash of each story’s ending. If you’re easily upset by these kinds of topics, don’t go near this book. But if you’re looking for a brilliant young author who really knows how to mess with your head, this is not a book to miss.

  • Kroni
    May 17, 2010 at 1:34 pm

    Very good review that touched upon something I never really saw until now; the difference between the protagonists. I had originally believed Morino was just like Mr. Narrator, but now I see the hints that separate her from the quite accurate example of a sociopath that is the narrator.

  • rien
    October 14, 2011 at 7:41 am

    hi, I was searching GOTH and found your blog here.
    I now we’re not know each other but if you don’t mind, could I ask you for help?
    I’m rien and now I’m in my last semester at university in Indonesia, majoring japanese literature.
    I’m doing my thesis so I can graduate. and my object is this novel.
    I already have this novel but it’s in japan’s language.
    and believe me, it’s kanji character’s VERY hard to read and understand.
    I want to graduate this november so my thesis should be on my teacher’s hands at oct.20th.now, what I want to ask for your help is:
    could you scan the chapter TWINS and WRISTCUT here so I can use it as a referense?
    because I already search EVERYWHERE in my country and the net for this book and I can’t find it.so I’m really desperate right now.
    I’ll be so grateful if you willing to help me but if you’re not it’s okay, but at least please reply this so I know what’s your decision.
    thank you so much and I’ll be waiting šŸ˜€ šŸ˜€

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