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Grotesque by Natsuo Kirino


by Natsuo Kirino

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The book is well written, but that may be one of the few good things I have to say about Grotesque. This novel would seem to be a critique of Japanese culture - particularly the subordinate state of women in Japan; it would also seem to be about self-loathing; it could also be about the harmful consequences of cross-cultural interaction. The book could work on any of these levels, but ultimately it fails.

The story is about three principal characters and a handful of supporting characters. The three principals - the extremely beautiful Yuriko, the attractive but ultimately plain Kazue, and the narrator (Mitsuru), Yuriko's older, plain, dumpy sister - seem to be intended to illustrate how Japan's rigidly stratified, highly competitive, and ultimately overwhelmingly sexist society destroys women, and does so from the inside - by making women loathe themselves.

The problem with the book, and why it ultimately fails, is that the book is, from beginning to end, fatalistic to a depressing extent. You cannot read one page of this book without feeling depressed. The characters are filled with hatred for others, loathing for themselves, and the pursuit of self-destruction.

By the end, one is so overwhelmed by the oppressive negativity of the book that I had to start wondering about the psychological state of the author, Ms. Kirino, herself. Would it be possible to indulge oneself in such a bottomless pit of hatred and disgust unless one was, oneself, of a "grotesque" nature? Is this a case of Ms. Kirino glancing in a mirror?

This is a disturbing book, and all the more so because it is a compelling book. The reader wants to read on, even though each page is an indulgence in hate. By the time you finish this book you will hate yourself for having bothered to read it; you will reflect on the misery and tragedy of the lives depicted in it, and the fact that there is not one positive note to be taken away from the whole lot.

The book clearly lives up to its title. ( )
  jpporter | Oct 24, 2015 |
Bleak. An unrelentingly brutal analysis of the human condition. This might be unmistakably Japanese, but the characters, their motivations, their self delusionment, their flaws and dependencies, are recognizable in any modern society. Bleak. And brilliant. Not the easiest book to read, but impossible to ignore. ( )
1 vote malcrf | Oct 5, 2015 |
I'm mixed on this book, because at times I felt as if some main points were belabored, but I'm not sure if I should blame the author or the narrator. For most of the book the reader is trapped inside the narrow perspective of the main narrator, who is fixated on her unnaturally beautiful sister. At first it was really difficult to understand why the main character would have such a deep hatred of her own sister. At times I couldn't even understand how the main character ever got along with people and why anyone would stop to talk to her, given her socio-pathic outlook on life. I started to really dislike the main character, but as the story progressed I think I started learning not to trust the narrator's point of view, and looked at it as more of a character study, as well as studies of several other characters that came along. I also liked the writing of translation better in Kirino's other book "Out." ( )
  ruinedmap | May 19, 2015 |
I found this a very disturbing book. Written in a way that made me feel very uncomfortable, in a way that I wanted to get up and DO something.

Yuriko Hirata's sister writes about her life in Japan, with a stunningly beautiful sister whom she hates. They are opposites in all aspects and do absolutely not get along. The sister attends a very expensive school, trying to get ahead in life. She has no friends at school, is somehow always argueing with the other girls, for many reasons.

Yuriko is destined to become a prostitute: the only way she knows to get things done is to please men, she's beautiful but not very bright.

Kazue Sato is a bright girl, working very hard to become and stay the best. She is awkward in her communications with boys, but gets a good job as a member of the family with an architectural an engenerical office. She is not a very social woman during the day, but to be incontrol, balanced as she calls it herself, she 'decided' to become a prostitute too: have control over men and her own life, a thing she didn't achieve in her day-life.

After Yuriko's and Kazues deaths, they were both killed while working the streets as a middle aged prostitute, the sister lets us read her diary as well as the diary of Kazue and give an inside view on their lives. Somehow she also laid hands on the court reports, the police reports about the killer and she also shares them with the reader.

These four sights give a disturbing view on the lives of these females in Japan. A harsh society, not friendly at all to women.
The stories of lives going downhill made me want to get up and shout out at them to try and make a change, somehow. I know there's nothing I can do, although I would like that. That feeling will stay with me for quite some time. I'm not sure if Kirino intended the book to have this effect, but it did on me.

Very interested in what other people think about it.

( )
  BoekenTrol71 | Mar 31, 2013 |
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book, as creepy as it was. It's the rather disconcerting story of beautiful schoolgirl Yuriko, her less than attractive older sister, schoolmate Kazue Sato and murderer Zhang. It's a bleak look at the dark side of female relationships and forces that drive some women into prostitution.

The characters in this story were mesmerizing. They had so much disdain and hatred for others that I wanted to dig deeper into their pysches to discover why. I found the book easy to put aside and pick up later as the plot was not overly involved but was rather more character studies of a few individuals.

I've read Out, also by Natsuo Kirino, but I liked this novel much more due to its diary-like format. I'm very much looking forward to reading other novels by this same author. ( )
3 vote SqueakyChu | Feb 1, 2013 |
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Whenever I meet a man, I catch myself wondering what our child would look like if we were to make a baby.
All of them had the ability to interact with others: friends, lovers, someone to whom they could open their hearts, someone with whom they could share conversation, someone they longed to see once work was done. They had people outside the workplace who made them feel happy.
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In the wake of the brutal murders of two Tokyo prostitutes, Yuriko and Kazue, Yuriko's older sister describes the three women's education at a prestigious girls' high school, where strict societal conventions determine the courses of their lives.

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