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Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Book Review: Out

桐野夏生アウト

Out, by Natsuo Kirino

You may want to avoid eating before or while reading this thriller. Aside from that caveat, the only other recommendation is to set aside two days because you will not be able to put "Out" down. It draws in the reader with its letter-perfect character descriptions and tightly-constructed plot. Kirino's novel was originally published in Japanese under the same title in 1997. It was a cause celebre selling 300,000 copies and won Japan's top mystery award in 1998. Prior to that, Kirino won the Naoki Prize with "Yawarakana Hoho" (Tender Cheeks).

Out
This hard-boiled novel examines the interrelationships between four women factory workers, who are drawn into covering up the murder one of them commits. This leads to more intrigue and, ultimately, the central premise of the novel: what would you do in similar circumstances? Would you reject a friend's entreaty? If yes, why and how? If no, could you take part in the horror--and then go back to your previous life?

The main character is the brilliant but ordinary-seeming Masako Katori, who works the night shift in a factory. When a co-worker murders her husband, Katori steps forward and enlists the help of two other women in covering up the crime. Katori lives with and takes care of her sexless and depressed husband and her sullen teenage son who no longer speaks to her.

To pigeonhole "Out" as a detective novel does no justice to it. For those who have lived in Japan for many years--or for those who only have the vaguest idea of Japan--this is stunning portrayal of the anomie of modern Tokyo. The portrayals of a Brazilian immigrant, a Yakuza nightclub owner, a Chinese hostess, the working class police detectives, and of course the women themselves are spot-on. Brilliant.


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