Ever since I read ‘A Man’ by Keiichiro Hirano, a slow-burn investigative fiction book about identity theft, I have been wanting to explore more titles by the Japanese author. ‘At the End of the Matinee’ is a wistful romantic drama about how classical guitarist Satoshi Makino falls in love with journalist Yoko Komine who’s already entered her 40s and is two years older than him, but their instant attraction transcends the cynicism of their age. They are introduced after a performance by Makino in Tokyo and the guitarist is drawn to Yoko’s intellect and beauty, while she finds his musical genius and storytelling prowess magnetic.
The first half of the novel is absolutely riveting, Keiichiro’s vivid descriptions make the reader yearn for the classical music Makino plays through the pages, the melodies that comfort Yoko when she is surrounded by death and despair. Translated by Juliet Winters Carpenter, it’s hard to imagine if there was anything lost in translation, because the prose flows smoothly and the story-telling is beautifully fluid. But like the Makino’s musical career in the book, the novel too dips in the second half and becomes listless/directionless. What starts off as an intriguing romance between two adults in their forties, turns into a cliched soap-opera for a while. At least the first twist, the one leading to the biggest conflict in the novel read like something a villain from a dramatic television show meant for bored unemployed adults would do.
Even though a lot of the plot is steeped in a calming sense of reality, the two protagonists are a little too idealistic, each viewing the other as someone worth putting on a pedestal on. Neither Makino, nor Komine are relatable and you get the gnawing sense that the Japanese are too repressed when it comes to their emotions. Divided by continents, the two adults connect over Skype and phone calls, but when faced with a crippling crisis, they resort to talk in circles and leave things unresolved. So, the novel gets frustrating towards the end.
Keiichiro Hirano redeems the book with a poignant romantic climax, which unfortunately doesn’t end in a conclusive manner, but swells to an optimistic closure; an end where the reader can gather their own conclusions
It’s a 3.5/5 from me.
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