Natsuo Kirino – Out

21Oct09

Desperation leads one to do strange things; things one would not do under normal circumstances – things one would not even consider. This is the essence of one of the bleakest books I’ve read this year: Out.

Natsuo Kirino’s bestseller follows four women working in a bento-box factory, who turn their lives upside down, as circumstance dictates. Yayoi, in a fit of rage, strangles her husband, who was enamoured by a young hostess, and had wasted away all their savings. On realizing that she’d killed him, she contacts Musoko, one of the other factory workers, and asks for her help in disposing off the body.

Musoko instantaneously decides to help, and picks up the body from Yayoi’s place. After work that night, she speaks to Yoshie, and convinces her to lend a hand. Yoshie is reluctant, but, when Musuko promises a monetary reward, she concedes. Financial difficulties, and a teenage daughter plus an old mother-in-law to look after means Yoshie can always do with money!

And finally there’s Kuniko, a compulsive spender, who needs money to pay off the interest on her loans. Greedy, materialistic and untrustworthy, it’s no surprise that Musoko doens’t trust her enough to ask her for help outright. However, when she goes over to Musuko’s place, to beg her for a loan, Musoko and Yoshie are in the middle of dismembering the body, and they pull Kuniko in.

After cutting the body into tiny pieces, they put the fragments into garbage bags, and decide to leave it around the city – it would be the easiest way to dispose off the body. The three girls take some of the bags each, while Yayoi plays the role of the worried wife.

When a set of bags are discovered in the park, the police suspect Satake, the psychopathic owner of a club and gambling outfit, as Yayoi’s husband had gotten into a fight with him on the very evening he was killed. The girls are under the impression that they have pulled it off, and can get away scot-free…

But, old secrets come to light, and the story follows on into a glimpse of Tokyo vice: loan sharks, illegal gambling clubs, prostitution, and the like.

The book is gory, with grotesque screens described vividly: be it the dismemberment of Yayoi’s husband, or a rape scene, where the rapist is stabbing the woman and causing her to bleed to death, while raping her. If you have an overactive imagination, or a sensitive tummy, this book isn’t for you!

It’s also a glimpse into society in Tokyo: about sexism and racism, work ethics and culture, money and vice. The women are lovelorn, their relationships with their husbands have faded into nothing, and the poverty that binds their hands, leads them to make some shocking decisions. It’s not a book about friendship – it’s a book about desperation, and the choices made subsequently. The ending is as bizarre as it gets, and it’s another bloody gruesome picture.

The suspense in the book is limited to: will they be caught? The crime’s committed in the opening chapters, and in my opinion, some of the book dragged on. It’s not the best book I’ve read this year, but I was wolfing it down, eager to know what happened next. Some of the writing fell flat, and I personally thought that the translation wasn’t great.

Rating: 3.5

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15 Responses to “Natsuo Kirino – Out”

  1. I agree with you – the translation was terrible in places, but that wasn’t Natsu Kirino’s fault and so I tried to see past that. I was interested to see you write that it took place in a bento-box factory. In my book is was a ‘boxed lunch’ factory and that drove me mad! It really should have been bento.

    I’m sorry to hear that you felt it dragged. I loved every second. This is my favourite thriller. It is always interesting to read your thoughts though – I never know what you are going to say next!

  2. Hm, mixed review! I’m still looking forward to reading this but perhaps less so now…

  3. I saw this book in the bookstore but it was too expensive, I still want to read it though. Nice Review :)

  4. This book is on my list, although I didn’t know what it was about until reading your review. I don’t consider myself to be a terribly sensitive reader, but this sounds like a tough one.

  5. And then you get nightmares… Great review, but I might give this one a miss. By the way, as a thumb-nail the cover looks most attractive… Until you see it full-sized and realise what it actually depicts; oops!

  6. Hmm… most interesting… I think the gore would put me off reading this though. I have enjoyed reading books by Haruki Murakami and this has given me a taste for Japanese literature, but I’m never keen on things that have lots of blood and guts.

    How do you tell that something might be translated badly rather than written badly in the original language? That is a genuine question, by the way, rather than me being picky…

  7. @Jackie : In my book, it’s “boxed lunch” as well. I just assumed that it was a bento-box factory, because, well, it sounds more Japanese than “boxed lunch”? Haha, thanks – unfortunately, my favorite thriller for the year’s Fingersmith, and try as I may, I don’t think any other thriller this year will top that.

    @Claire : It’s an interesting plot, and call me morbid, but I do like vice stories! I’d be interested to see what you make of this one!

    @Violet : Thank you – best of luck finding a not-so-expensive copy. Maybe a second hand bookstore, or Amazon marketplace, or something?

    @charley : I thought it was kind-of gory! Maybe I was a tad more sensitive as I wasn’t well…. don’t know!

    @Sarah : Tell me about it! I like this cover a tad more than the other one, but, I’m hoping it’s a sight I never have to encounter in real life!

    @Random Reflections : I enjoy Murakami as well as Ishiguro. However, this book gives a peek into a Tokyo I’ve never seen before while reading, and I personally found it quite interesting.

    It’s a good question. I think one example is what Jackie’s already touched upon: the book uses the phrase “boxed lunch” instead of “bento-box”. Small things like that take away from the mood and environment the book would probably have had in the original language – and, it also makes it feel slightly less Japanese and more “general”, if you know what I mean? The translator, I think, has attempted to re-write the work in English for a different audience, as opposed to simply translate Kirino’s original work. I hope that helps answer your question?

  8. Yeah, the ‘boxed-lunch’ thing didn’t work for me either… One of the things I loved when reading this was the fact that it was set in Japan, when most of my reading is set in the US and Europe. The translator could have played up the Japanese aspects alright. Having said that, I really liked the book. I thought it was different and although gory at times, not so graphic that I couldn’t stomach it – more matter-of-fact about the dismembering etc, which made it even more chilling.

  9. Oy. Kinda glad I passed on this one! Great review though! :-)

  10. I have it somewhere on my shelves. I think it’s time I pull it out and read it! Great review; sorry the translation wasn’t so great, though. Sometimes it really does change the way we see a book! Not in a major way, but still.

  11. 11 chasing bawa

    Great review. I read Out several years ago and really enjoyed it. I just finished Grotesque by Kirino which I felt was even darker and bleaker than Out!

  12. @Joanna : I think I got slightly freaked out by the stabbing and raping descriptions, and the ending, which was just….. twisted! Pity about the Japanese aspects, huh?

    @Marie : Thanks – it was kind of interesting, in a warped way!

    @kay : I think it’s time, too. :) Sometimes, I wish I new more languages, to read the books in the original way. Of course, that would mean learning about 200 languages……

    @chasing bawa : Wow, really? I know it sounds morbid, but I really must check it out. “Out” is, by far, one of the bleakest books I’ve read this year.

  13. great review -I read “Real World” a couple of months ago and enjoyed it-Out is about twice as long-I will read it soon

    • I haven’t read Real World yet, but, if it’s half the size of Out, I might seek it out (apologies for the dual use of “out”).

      Look forward to reading your thoughts on Out.

  14. 15 Bellezza

    I’ve not read this yet, but I have to say the reviews I’ve read are unanimous: gory to the max! It sounds like a perfect read for the RIP IV over at Carl’s place, too. One of these days, I’ll pick it up. Maybe it makes a film like Saw seem tame?


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