‘Bullet Train’ by Kōtarō Isaka, translated by Sam Malissa – Abandoned at 53%

Satoshi looks like an innocent schoolboy but he is really a viciously cunning psychopath. Kimura’s young son is in a coma thanks to him, and Kimura has tracked him onto the bullet train heading from Tokyo to Morioka to exact his revenge. 

But Kimura soon discovers that they are not the only dangerous passengers onboard. Nanao, the self-proclaimed ‘unluckiest assassin in the world‘, and the deadly partnership of Tangerine and Lemon are also travelling to Morioka. 

A suitcase full of money leads others to show their hands. 

Why are they all on the same train, and who will get off alive at the last station?

I enjoyed ‘Bullet Train’ at first. It was odd but funny. Tangerine and Lemon amused me. They’re like characters from a Quentin Tarantino movie – hard to believe in but fun to watch – bizarre but in a way that feels witty rather than strange. I liked Nanao too – the man for whom things always go spectacularly wrong, even when his assignment is: get on train – take briefcase – get off at next stop. I enjoyed the escalating madness of it – like watching a Roadrunner cartoon.

Tangerine, Lemon and Nanao are not really people, they’re thought experiments – archetypes with pronounced characteristics that make their behaviour predictable enough to be fun and weird enough to be amusing. Then they’re dropped into situations that stress-test them and make them bounce off each other in carefully orchestrated chaos.

Two things led me to me abandoning the book after making it through the first 240 pages: I strongly disliked two of the characters and I got bored.

I enjoyed the passages with Lemon and Tangerine and Nanao but I couldn’t settle to the storyline with Kimura and the schoolboy Satoshi – The Prince. It wasn’t just that neither character had any redeeming attributes, the other characters are professional assassins after all – it was that their part of the story felt ponderous and laboured to me. I can see that The Prince is meant to be monstrous and he is in a way but it’s a very pedestrian way. The Prince isn’t from a Looney Tunes cartoon, he’s the product of those 1960s American psychology experiments on obedience by people like Milgram. And these sixty-year-old concepts are presented as if they were new and startling. Every time we returned to these two characters, I groaned and had to make myself continue reading. 

Then, after a hundred and fifty pages or so (about a third of the way through the book), I started to get bored. The plot felt like it was moving in slow motion and I couldn’t imagine how it could possibly take 451 pages to play out.

I set with it, past the halfway mark, hoping for a change in pace. When that didn’t happen I decided I was done. I’d like to know what happens but I’d rather Iive with the movie version than wade through the second half of the book.

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