Review: Goth – A Novel of Horror

Goth: A Novel of Horror

For general information on this series: Goth entry

This review is for Goth: A Novel of Horror by Otsuichi, released in Japan in 2002. This standalone novel (actually a collection of short stories) was released in English by Tokyopop in 2009, and again by Haikasoru (Viz Media) in 2015. The Haikasoru edition included an extra story titled “Morino’s Souvenir Photo.” This review will be for the earlier Tokyopop edition however, so I will only be going over what’s included in that. From what I can tell, the Haikasoru edition uses the same translation as the Tokyopop one, but with minor edits (save for the new story, handled by a new translator).

I’ve had a copy of the Tokyopop edition of Goth for several years now. I think I picked it up shortly before the Haikasoru edition was announced, and then I wondered if I should pick that one up instead. My indecision led to me just reading other books and forgetting about Goth, up until recently when I decided I wanted to try to do a “Horror Week” for this blog. A whole week of horror reviews! Since there aren’t many horror LNs available in English, I have to take what I can get — and I figured Goth is close enough to being a light novel. The author Otsuichi apparently intended it to be one when he was writing it, hoping that it would get more LN readers interested in mystery stories. Instead it released as a hardcover and won the Honkaku Mystery Award for being a top mystery novel in 2003.

The thing is though… is Goth even a mystery novel? Or is it what Tokyopop subtitled it: A Novel of Horror?

Well, for starters I’d call it a collection of six short stories, which are only connected by way of a couple recurring characters (mostly one in particular). This is not like The Dark Maidens, which had a series of short stories that built off one another to lead to an ending that tied everything together into one cohesive narrative. Goth is just six unrelated stories about murders that all happen to occur in the same area, and the two high schoolers who have an unhealthy fascination with said murders.

Our unnamed protagonist is not a detective trying to stop the culprits, but rather is just a boy who wants to learn what makes serial killers tick, and tries to witness some of their grisly deeds. The protagonist’s friend (of sorts) is a girl named Morino, who is also really into death. The main difference between the two characters is that the protagonist is able to act like a normal, friendly person and interact with others regularly without raising any suspicions of his twisted obsessions, while Morino keeps to herself as much as possible, always dresses entirely in black, and never displays any kind of outward emotion. As you might imagine, they each harbor some dark secrets. If you have read the YA novel I Am Not a Serial Killer, that’ll give you a good idea for what type of main characters you’re getting here. The way Morino and the protagonist interact with each other is actually rather delightful, in a morbid way… I really wish more of the novel had focused on them, instead of being mostly about the various criminals they’re interested in.

In many of the stories in Goth, we get the point of view of the murderer, so most of the book doesn’t really follow a whodunnit formula at all. And in some of them, there isn’t even much of a motive to unravel–it’s usually just… the murderer is crazy. Really, the point of the stories generally just felt like, “Wow, some people are really messed up, huh?” which is kind of meh for mystery, but perhaps okay for horror. I don’t know, for the most part this one just didn’t quite click with me. Someone would do some terrible murders or acts of violence, and I’d think, “Yep, that’s really messed up.” And then the protagonist would get involved, and things would come to an end before he or Morino got killed. It’s just all kind of… I don’t want to say uneventful… but I guess the stories just didn’t leave much of a lasting impression, particularly when most of the stories’ big twists are all rather similar to each other.

I suppose I can rate each story [1 to 3 rating scale]

  • Goth — [2] The opening story to establish the characters. Someone is chopping people up, and decorating trees with their organs.
  • Wrist-Cut – [1] Someone really, really loves hands. The culprit is knocking people out and chopping off their hands, then hiding the hands in a fridge.
  • Dog — [1] Someone’s killing dogs.
  • Memory/Twins — [2] We get Morino’s backstory. Probably my favorite story of the bunch, though I saw the twist ending coming early on. Too bad Morino doesn’t really do that much in any of the other stories.
  • Grave — [1] An older man is a completely normal person… save for his subconscious bucket list of one thing: to bury someone alive.
  • Voice — [2] A girl’s sister has been killed. A certain boy gives her tape recordings of her sister’s last words…

Most reviews I’ve seen for this book have been highly favorable, so if you’re into dark stories then this is probably still worth checking out. And I do think Otsuichi is a talented author–each story here moves at a quick pace, every word feeling harsh and deliberate. But in terms of character and plot, Goth just couldn’t win me over. It has its strong moments (the final story in particular has an intense finale), but a lot of the pay-offs feel too forced. Perhaps I should read the author’s Calling You again some time, because I remember really loving that collection of short stories.

Cho's Rating: Maybe Recommended

You can purchase this book online via sites like Amazon (available in paperback or as an ebook) and Book Depository (which offers free worldwide shipping). These are affiliate links, so a small percentage of sales goes toward this site.

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