Out – Natsuo Kirino

Out, by Japanese author Natsuo Kirino is a difficult novel to categorise. If I had to put it into a category I would say it was a sort of psychological thriller, but it is not your average page-turner.

Having read Grotesque by the same author a few years ago and after hearing that Out was supposed to be one of Kirino’s best novels I had it in the back of my mind to pick up a copy and although having kept an eye out for some while for one in a charity shop, I finally gave in and bought it new on sale from Amazon. I thought it was about time to get into a good thriller, but I didn’t realise quite how gritty Out would be.

The story revolves around four women who work the gruelling night-shift at a boxed-lunch factory. All of them live dysfunctional lives. One night, one of the women, a young and beautiful mother is finally at the end of her tether. She murders her husband after he comes back from a night of gambling and chasing women. She confesses her crime to one of the friends Masako, who decides to help her get rid of the body by enlisting the help of her other co-workers. When parts of the body are discovered, the police get involved however the women face far more dangerous enemies in the form of a ruthless nightclub owner and a loan shark.

Having read Grotesque, I had an idea of what I was in for with Out. Kirino’s writing is stark. She takes no prisoners in describing the motives of each of the characters and highlighting their flaws. The relationships in the group of women are intriguing. Are they drawn together because of circumstance or something darker? 

“She wondered a bit uneasily whether she’d be convincing in the role of the worried wife. After all, she still felt a tingle of excitement when she recalled the sight of his lifeless body slumped in the doorway. Serves the bastard right.”

On the bare facts alone it’s easy to understand why Yayoi, in the role of the wronged wife would murder her husband in the heat of the moment, but Kirino doesn’t depict her as a victim. Somehow I didn’t feel sorry for her, or for any of her friends.

Masako, the woman who orchestrates the body’s disposal is a brilliant creation. She is businesslike and complex – in fact just plain scary. Kuniko is depicted as pig of a woman, intent on acquiring possessions out of her reach and ready to do whatever it takes to get the money. Yoshi or ‘Skipper’ as she is nick named is the only character I warmed to at all, somehow preserving a sort of innocence despite her frank approach to the situation in hand.

As Satake (the nightclub owner) gets involved, events turn very ugly and I read on with a mixture of fascination and horror.  Kirino gives the reader a glimpse into the harsh thoughts of every character in the book and detailing the intricacies of every situation as the book progresses, making it a pretty hard read at times.

I wouldn’t say that this novel is for everyone because the content is pretty sick at times, but if that doesn’t bother you then Out is a fascinating and gripping read as well as being skilfully written. I honestly think that the most disturbing thing about Out is not the actual violence in it, but the brutal way that she lays out the nastiest thoughts and exposes the worst of human nature.  Some of the comments on the book jacket suggest that Kirino is hinting at a kind of twisted feminist motive behind the women’s actions, but I feel that’s simply a simplistic and misplaced category for what is really a unique exploration of the dark complexity of women’s relationships.

A shocking, compelling and extraordinary piece of writing.

16 responses to “Out – Natsuo Kirino

  1. That last sentence alone has me bumping this up my TBR pile! Very well done yet cautionary review.

  2. I loved this book when I read it a few years back. It’s very very dark but entirely fascinating. I read it as part of the online book group I used to run, and you can read the discussion about it here: http://kimbofo.typepad.com/readingmatters/2005/09/book_group_sess.html

    • Totally fascinating! I really don’t think it would be for everyone, but I do think that the violence and horror is justified in this book. Loved the questions and wish that I’d been at the book group 🙂

  3. Ooooooh I have had this on my TBR for ages since we read Grotesque for ex-book group. I am now quite desperate to read it (the sick bits don’t thrill me but they don’t put me off) I think I will wait though as The Wind Up Bird Chronicle (which I got today) is looking like a huge asian masterpiece and I dont want to confuse the two.

    This was a fab review probably one of your best yet!

    • I think it’s better than Grotesque but along similar lines so you’ll know what to expect! I’m looking forward to reading TWUBC over Christmas.

  4. I’ve never heard of this author. I’ll have to check her out. Who needs gore and blood when the most frightening thing of all is the depth of the human psyche?

  5. I’m so pleased that you enjoyed this! Out is my favourite thriller and I loved the shocking sections as much as the thought provoking ones.

    I’ve just finished Grotesque and was very disappointed. It wasn’t in the same league as Out – in fact it was boring in comparison. I think you did the right thing reading them the otehr way round.

    • Hello Jackie, Out is great isn’t it! Shame that you were disappointed with Grotesque. I think I found it interesting it bits – for example I found the train journey fascinating, and almost hard to believe how awful the relationship between the schoolgirls was! Probably good I read them that way around though…

  6. I cannot believe that I am hosting The Japanese Literature Challenge 3, and I have yet to read this! I feel ridiculous. Like others before me have said, I must bump this up. Thanks for the great review!

  7. I’d agree with your last line. I found this book extremely fascinating, and specially when the book started going deeper and deeper into the Japanese underworld, I was completely hooked.

    Like you, I didn’t really sympathise with the characters, but, I don’t think Kirino expects the reader to. None of them are made out to be the “victim”, although, I do think Yoshi was forced into it – which was unfortunate.

    • Yoshi’s a great character – she kind of takes things on and gets on with it. I agree, none of them could really be seen as victims.

  8. I have never read any of her books before, but I heard that it was very interesting. I would love to read any books/novels that is related to psychological and mystery. Thriller is okay to but I perfer suspense over that although they are usually together as a genre, but not all the time

  9. Pingback: Out by Natsuo Kirino « The Sleepless Reader

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