I'm sad, because I finally finished Battle Royale. This is an ultra-violent Japanese novel set in an alternate present-day universe in which Japan developed into an fascist police state (similar to Burma but way worse). In order to provide an outlet for people's violent tendencies and to remind the populace that no one is safe, every year the government stages "Battle Royale." 40 junior high school students are picked to compete in a deadly survival competition on a deserted island. They're all dropped off on the island and forced to kill each other until only one remains. If 24 hours go by without any deaths, they all die (there are explosive collars around their necks). Sectors of the island are progressively declared "forbidden", meaning anyone who enters has their collar instantly detonated.
Jenny told me this is one of the only books she's ever read that feels as fast paced as an action movie, and she's right. Literally every page has some new development. I was afraid that the abundance of characters with Japanese names would make it hard to follow, but they die off at a pretty good clip, and Koushun Takami's writing is straightforward and well structured. The violence is really graphic and over-the-top, but it can't really be labeled "gratuitous" since that's what the whole novel's about. You'd think that with 40+ characters it would be hard to develop any single person's personality, but Takami has the ability to sketch out their individual quirks enough that you end up fervently supporting or despising most of them.
If you're looking for a good beach/train ride read, this is the book for you! Be careful though; in addition to graphic violence, it also contains graphic quotations from Bruce Springsteen's "Born To Run."