Hell by Yasutaka Tsutsui

I have attempted reading this book at least on four different occasions and I’m afraid that yesterday I managed to finish it. This is one for the Charity bin.

Fifty-seven-year-old Takeshi has just been involved in a traffic accident. When he wakes up, he is in a strange bar and is no longer crippled as he has been for most of his life, but able to walk without crutches in his everyday business suit. Looking around, he sees a number of familiar faces—Izumi, a colleague who had died in a plane crash five years before; his childhood friend Yuzo, who had become a yakuza and had been killed by a rival gang member; and Sasaki, who had frozen to death as a homeless vagrant. This is Hell—a place where three days last as long as 10 years on earth, and people are able to see events in both the future and the past. Yuzo can now see the yakuza that killed him as he harasses a friend of his. The actress Mayumi and the writer Torigai are chased by the paparazzi into an elevator that drops to floor 666 beneath ground level. The vivid depiction of afterlife portrayed in Hell admits the traditional horrors, but subjects them to Tsutsui’s unique powers of enchantment—witty, amusing, and praised for its poetic style and the wizard-like light touch of the author’s shifting focus.

“‘You know what Hell is? It’s just a place without God. The Japanese don’t believe in God to begin with, so what’s the difference between this world and the world of living?'”

This book was confusing at best and delusional at worst. I know the author wanted to be a bit “meta” on his approach to how Hell is really like but I think it came off as half-assed. It’s trying to be too much of everything, a pastiche, a social commentary and maybe a bit of dark humour but fails to engage and even to entertain.

In the novel the line between the world we live in and hell is blurred. The more we get to know the numerous characters that appear in it, the more the two worlds merge together. It goes to such an extent that at the end of the book, one may feel that hell is really just something we create on our own. There’s no need for burning infernos and endless suffering after death since we can experience all of it while we’re still alive.

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