Taking as his inspiration the 1995 sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway, award-winning author Nakamura weaves together politics, religion, and science—including biology, cosmology, and quantum physics—into a fascinating noir brimming with insightful commentary on totalitarianism that is especially apt for our times.
Caveat lector: Some of the explicit sex scenes in Fuminori Nakamura's new novel Cult X will disturb you. Whether that's because they embarrass you or turn you on or both is very much beside the point ... A doomsday cult called Aum Shinrikyo, led by a man named Shoko Asahara, planned and carried out the fatal attacks — in large part to prevent police investigations into their inner workings. No spoilers here as to what happened afterwards, especially as Nakamura imagines it differently — and that's what makes Cult X worth reading ... you'll think about Nakamura's questions long after you've closed his book's covers. He uses the conventions of a genre to prop up a tent for big ideas about groupthink and individual responsibility. If you feel a few frissons along the way? Consider how easily you might be seduced into a cult, and then take a long, cold shower.
There are a lot of moving pieces here, but...Cult X is more interested in ideas than actions ... Cult X is also very much about Japan and the country’s self-image in the aftermath of World War II and onward through the end of the 20th century ... The talent for character and existential themes that won Nakamura’s previous novels praise comes through here, but both are weakened by a plot that exists less to answer questions than to provide a framework for Nakamura to raise them ... Cult X’s relatively flat plot means that it is heavy on the musing, a structure that does a disservice to the ideas within it. Cult X’s length also begins to work against its goals near the end ... For all that goes on, perhaps the most unifying sensation across Cult X is one of being adrift and unmoored. At times even a generous reader will probably feel the same, but Nakamura’s talent for characterization and willingness to engage make this a novel worth wrestling with, flaws and all.