What is a light novel?I suppose every one of you knows what a novel is, isn't it? A light novel is pretty similar to it with some subtle differences. Firstly, a light novel generally depicts themes which are meant to attract the younger audience. These include high-school life as well as stories depicted in fantasy settings. Although certain light novels (also referred to in this article simply as novels) do present realistic plots, most others use imaginary settings and characters. Light novels invariably come with illustrations. And more often than not, they are presented in the form of multiple volumes. As far as I know, Japan is the only country to produce this form of literature in large numbers.
Hyouka – the plot and everythingLet us now come to the specific light novel at hand. The name of this one is 'Hyouka'. Literally, it means 'a cold treat' and the name has been derived from certain incidents which occurred in the first volume of this series of novels. Altogether, the novel series is also sometimes referred to as the Classics Club series (in Japanese it is called 'Koten-bu'). This series of light novels is composed of six volumes. It was written by Honobu Yonezawa.
The central story revolves around a boy called Oreki Houtarou who has adopted the path of laziness as his sole motto in life. In other words, if he doesn't have to do a particular job, he won't do it. On the other hand, if he has to do any work, he will always cut corners. He is forced by his elder sister to join a club called the Classics Club. Throughout the entire series of six novels, we never get the slightest indication of what the club does and neither does Oreki. But from the time he enters the club; strange incidents surround him and his friends. And on each of these occasions, Oreki solves the mysteries using his superb skills of deduction although sometimes he has to sacrifice his motto of laziness.
I managed to find this novel when I was searching for a mystery light novel series. And although the above description might have made this light novel series seem like the traditional detective novel series it is not so. In the story, Oreki is never presented as a genius like Holmes. Since the story is presented from Oreki's perspective (at least on most occasions) we understand that just like any other individual, he has his mood swings, his slight irritability, his doubt regarding his own abilities as well as the tinge of pride he feels when he hears his praises. In fact, we even have situations like the one in the second volume where the infallibility of Oreki's deductions was disproved. The protagonist of this story is not an infallible genius, but can be related to a high-schooler. The novel has been written quite well from that perspective and it just makes the characters much more believable.
Praise and CriticismIn mangas (manga=Japanese comic books) like 'The file of Young Kindaichi', the protagonist (also a high-schooler) solves murder cases as well as cases of kidnapping, etc. Although such stories are also enjoyable, they somehow end up making the central character too 'big' and the story as a whole becomes somewhat hard to believe. That's where 'Hyouka' scores above the rest. The mysteries in the story relate to everyday school occurrences, rather than headline-grabbing crimes. For example, what was that somewhat mysterious announcement on the school microphone? Or who is the one stealing the pieces of equipment used by the various school clubs? Or who messed up the student council elections? By focusing on events on a smaller scale, 'Hyouka' ends up as one of the most realistic light novels out there. The characters of this novel series, including the curious Chitanda and the friendly Satoshi are characters which are unique enough to make a mark on our mind and at the same time commonplace enough for us to relate with them.
There is at least one basis on which I would like to criticize this novel series. In making his deductions, Oreki is never a hundred percent sure of his own deductions. This is because he always chooses the conclusions which make the most amount of sense rather than the conclusions which are necessarily correct. At the end of most stories, it almost feels as if his deductions were true only as a matter of luck. This did lead to a wrong deduction as well in the second volume, but otherwise, he did not run into any kind of trouble.
I think that the author, Honobu Yonezawa is much more suited to writing short stories rather than a long series of novels. This becomes clear when we look at the six volumes which are basically detached from each other rather than having connecting threads between them. There are references to the previous stories time and again, but the various volumes, by themselves appear as discrete volumes, which are complete by themselves. As a result, even if I start reading from volume five onward, I won't feel as if I have missed anything important. But that also means that volume four which is basically a collection of short stories becomes a delight to read, because of the author's natural expertise in this field.
Some people have been quick to criticize this novel's ending, saying that it was inconclusive. In reality, open-ended stories can be frustrating, but it is not as if 'Hyouka' leaves us hanging in mid-air with its ending. The ending, by itself, is quite well done and it gives the reader enough of freedom to conceive what would happen next. And it is much better to have an open-ended story rather than have a poorly written out ending.
A treat to read and watchThis light novel series also had an anime (anime=animated series) made on it. Both the anime as well as the novel series were quite popular when they were first released. Although I haven't seen the anime myself, I have read that it is more or less a faithful depiction of the novel. Therefore, whether you read the novel or watch the anime, I can assure you that you will find the series a treat, whether you are a fan of Japanese youth literature or not!