Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Saturday, December 12, 2009

"Out" by Natsuo Kirino

Out by Natsuo Kirino (520 pages, 2004, translated from Japanese by Stephen Snyder) is the second work by Natsuo Kirino that I have read.   I  read her shorter Real World and posted on it in August.    I had a pretty good idea what to expect in Out, a cold razor eyed look at the life of  unskilled women working in a factory.   I knew there would be violence, most everybody would be corrupt in one way or another and there would be vivid scenes of sexual abuse.   It is also a book about the rebellion of a woman against her very oppresive husband through the ultimate act of rebellion.

Out centers on four women, just like The Makioka Sisters by Junichiro Tanizaki does.   In The Makioka Sisters the women have problems such as low quality servants, deciding what suitors one of  the sisters should accept and debating over which of the numerous houses the family owns each sister should live in.   In Out the problems center on rent, abusive husbands and dysfunctional children.   If there are servants in their families they are it!   They  may not dress their boyfriends in expensive English Tweeds like Fusako in The Sailor who Fell from Grace with the Sea or be worshiped for their beauty like Mitsuko in Quicksand.    They are kind of throw away women in Japanese society.   They have issues that block them from the world of corporate Japan.   Maybe they are half way acceptable looking to the men in their world (factory workers, security guards, loan sharks, lay- abouts of various sorts) but they are not in any way valued by the men in their lives.   They are interchangeable.   If one quits her job at the box lunch factory where they all work, nobody really cares.   No one is going to go through any elaborate courtship procedure with them for any objective at all.  

Out is  very much a fun crime novel.   It kept my attention all the way through but maybe in part you are waiting to see what terrible thing will happen next.   We get to know the women in this book well.   If you saw them on the subway in Tokyo you would not see anything special about them.    The four women lead characters are kind of friends (work friends) but when things turn nasty they turn on each other.   There is no sisterhood in this world.    The central plot of the book (this is not a spoiler it is on the inside cover!) revolves around the women's joint efforts to cover up the fact that one of the women has murdered her long abusive husband.   A number of characters from the dark side of Tokyo get involved, we get to hang out in some sleazy nightclubs.  Prostitution is seen as a career path worth considering to the women in this world.  They do not do but it enters their minds.   They see that women who sell themselves to rich men seem to have a much better life than women who work the night shift at a box lunch factory.    Maybe this is only in their minds and the long term future of such an occupation is very bleak but it seems a way out at times.  

Out is escapist reading but not just that.   It gives us a look at how real women live in Tokyo.   It is pretty fast paced and a lot happens.   It is easy to follow.   Out sold millions of copies in Japan

To me Out is for sure a good selection for the Women UnBound Challenge.   It completely focuses on the lives of four women of different ages, from their early 20s or so to mid 40s.   It shows the struggles they go through  trying to manage their families.   It gives us a very close hand look at their relationships with the men in their lives.   We feel we knew how these women lived and felt and related to each other.

I endorse Out for those who like crime novels that focus on the seamy seedy side of a big city.   There is very strong sexual violence.   If someone was interested in reading a first Japanese crime novel I would, of the books I have  read, suggest they read her Real World.  It is only half as long as Out.  Out is a better written more exciting book than Real World but it is twice as long and if you are neophyte in the Japanese novel it is too long a  crime work to start with.   If you like Real World (most reviewers give both books from 3 to 4 stars) then you will like Out more.

  Kirino is Japan's most celebrated crime novelist.   She has written it looks like about 20 works.   So far four have been translated into English according to Wikipedia and  (One of her works is not in print)   I will read Grotesque in 2010.  

Mel u


Jackie (Farm Lane Books) said...

Out is my favourite thriller. It had me captivated throughout and was shocking and thought provoking - everything you need in a book! I pleased that you enjoyed it.

I didn't enjoy Grotesque, so I'll be interested to see what you make of it.

I plan to read Real World next year.

I didn't realise that Kirino had written 20 books - I hope that someone is busy translating a few now.

Harvee said...

Mel: I read Out some years before I started reviewing books on a blog, but recall being impressed by it. I remember thinking it was a book about low income women coming together against the male dominated world they live in at home and on the job. Your review and details jogged my memory and made me think this one definitely should be added to the Flashback Challenge for a re-read.

Suko said...

I'm so glad you endorse Out as I have this book. I will count it toward the Women Unbound Challenge as well. Jackie's comments also compel me to read this novel sooner rather than later.

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