Book review: 秋の牢獄 (Autumn Prison)

Immediately after finishing 本好きの下剋上 vol. 1, I decided to blaze through another book before the bookclub moved on to vol. 2. 秋の牢獄 is another book by 恒川光太郎, the author of 夜市, and I bought both books at the same time (along with one more, 雷の季節の終わりに) without any knowledge about it beyond the fact that I was really enjoying the writing style. Originally I planned to finish it in two weeks (about 10 pages per day), but it ended up taking me just 11 days, which beats out しあわせの花 as my fastest book so far. I feel like I could have finished it in just a week if I had hustled a little more; the first story (72 pages) took me just three days.

As with 夜市, only the first story in the book is actually called 秋の牢獄, and this first story was my favorite of the three by far (while the others were good, they’re also not as straightforward to summarize so I’ll only be covering this first one). It follows a woman who wakes up one day to discover that it’s November 7th for the second day in a row. Everything that happened yesterday is happening again today, from the weather to the classes at her school to small talk at lunch. Day after day, November the 7th never ends; no matter what she does, everything resets at midnight and she wakes up in her bed at home the next (the same?) morning. It’s not long before the repetition starts to take its toll, but just when it’s becoming too much to bear, she discovers she’s not alone — there are other “replayers” just like herself, some of whom have been stuck in November 7th for hundreds of loops.

Some of the Replayers take full advantage of their effective immortality, since everything (including death and injury) are rolled back at the end of the day. Of course, it’s not all fun and games; in one sobering example, one of the other Replayers wakes up every morning to the sound of his wife getting ready for work, knowing full well that today is the day she intends to cheat on him — over and over again. Interpersonal conflict among the Replayers is briefly touched on and the implications are equally uncomfortable — since it’s impossible to move house, you would do well to avoid making an enemy who would then be able to repeatedly target you day after day.

As if all that isn’t bad enough, this world is also home to a mysterious and terrifying entity known among the Replayers as “the Lord of the North Wind”. Nobody knows who or what it is — some believe it to be a hungry predator that traps people in the loop until the time comes for them to be harvested; others say it’s a benevolent deity who will free you from the loop. The only thing anyone knows for sure is that once you’ve seen it, it won’t be long before you quietly disappear.

The sense of unease, despair, and eventual acceptance throughout the story is incredibly effective. I’ve really come to enjoy this author’s work and I’m excited to read 雷の季節の終わりに, which will be an interesting change of pace as it dedicates a full book to one story. As with Night Market, Autumn Prison is not available in English but I would heartily recommend it to anyone who can read Japanese.