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Out: A Novel by Natsuo Kirino

Out: A Novel (1997)

by Natsuo Kirino

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The blurb on the back of the book called this "a masterpiece of literary suspense and pitch-black comedy of gender warfare." I tend to disagree on some of those points.

"Masterpiece." With or without "Literary." These, it was not. Although a somewhat original take on a tired genre, I felt the characters were almost cartoonish in their motivations, and don't get me started on the deus ex machina introduced at the very end. I won't give anything away here, but if you've read the book, you'll know exactly what I'm talking about. That sort of cheap trick has a tendency to turn me off to the entire plot.

"Suspense." Well, yes. She (Kirino) did a good job of building the suspense, and I was racing through chapters to see how characters will get out of the holes they either (a) dug for themselves or (b) found themselves in. (Which is why the aforementioned cheap trick at the end frustrated me.)

"Pitch-black." Yes. Definitely. Quite possibly the darkest, bleakest book I've read in a while. The multiple depictions of rape, murder and rape+murder really dragged me down into some bleak territory. Not a book you'll read for escapism.

"Comedy???" Not at all. Not even close. Nothing comic about this entire book, anywhere, at all, period. In fact, this one word makes me question the integrity of whoever the publisher got to write the back-of-the-book blurb which (honestly) was in part what convinced me to buy it. So, perhaps I should say, "Mission accomplished, good sir," but damn your salesmanship and damn my gullibility.

"Gender Warfare." Here is the truly salient point in the entire blurb and I think what Kirino was going for. As a white, male American, I have no concept of what it's like (or, even, was like) being a woman in turn-of-the-most-recent-century Japan when this book was presumably written, but Kirino certainly does. And she's got something to say. The bleakness, the darkness, the violence and the despair throughout this book is her response. And from that, I can extrapolate certain things, which gives me food for thought. This is why I can't give this book a below average rating. The writing is fair. The story is okay. The characters are a little ridiculous. But the message is profound, and it didn't get lost even after (it felt like) Kirino beat me over the head with it like a hammer.

Not sure I'm going to seek out any of her other books (assuming there are any) nor will I ever recommend this to anybody, but I'm kind of glad I read it.

And now I can move on to something fun and light. My brain is a little fried and in a dark place right now. I need to cleanse the palate in my mind. ( )
  invisiblelizard | Feb 3, 2017 |
From Amazon:

Nothing in Japanese literature prepares us for the stark, tension-filled, plot-driven realism of Natsuo Kirino’s award-winning literary mystery Out. This mesmerizing novel tells the story of a brutal murder in the staid Tokyo suburbs, as a young mother who works the night shift making boxed lunches strangles her abusive husband and then seeks the help of her coworkers to dispose of the body and cover up her crime. The coolly intelligent Masako emerges as the plot’s ringleader, but quickly discovers that this killing is merely the beginning, as it leads to a terrifying foray into the violent underbelly of Japanese society.

My Thoughts:

This book is so much more than a psychological thriller or a formulaic crime novel. This is fiction that surpasses genre. Although plot driven, much of the story is dependent on character development and change. The characters are portrayed so vividly... even the minor ones... that the reader cannot help but form a strong attachment to them. It really does not matter if the connection is positive or not...you still looks forward to following the various personages forward to their individual destinies. Masako Katori...shrewd and extremely intelligent.... is the definite leader among the women and an absolutely fascinating figure. Although she has perfected a detached veneer with which she presents herself to the world...inside she is despondent and in turmoil. Increasingly alone and alienated from her husband and teenage son... she longs for "freedom.". Masako is looking for a way "out" of her claustrophobic life. This is Kirino's first book to appear in English... and it is my understanding that her other award-winner will be published in English very soon. I highly recommend this novel for readers who like to explore the dark side of a different culture.
( )
  Carol420 | May 31, 2016 |
Warning: This book includes on-page instances of rape, torture, murder, and corpse dismemberment. On the plus side, there is a cat, and it is neither hurt (at least not that I remember) nor killed. I spent the whole book worrying that something was going to happen to that cat.

Anyway, Out tells the story of four women who work the night shift at a boxed-lunch factory in Tokyo. Yayoi is the mother of two small children. Her husband goes out drinking and gambling every night and has started physically abusing her. Kuniko hides her lack of self-confidence under expensive makeup and clothes she can't afford. She's so buried in loans that she struggles just to pay the interest. Yoshie is a widow, mother, and caretaker for her elderly mother-in-law. She works at the factory seven nights a week and, even so, only barely makes enough to support herself, her mother-in-law, and her increasingly rebellious and distant teenage daughter. Masako is the most mysterious of them all. She used to have a job at a company somewhere, and she seems too cool and composed to be working the night shift at the factory.

While these four women aren't exactly friends, they make a good team at the factory. That's why, when Yayoi suddenly snaps and kills her husband, the first person she can think of to turn to is Masako. Masako agrees to take care of everything and enlists Yoshie's help. Due to a stroke of enormously bad luck, Kuniko also gets involved. With all these people in on the secret, will they really be able to avoid being found out by the police? Then there's the question they didn't consider, didn't even know they had to consider: will they be able to evade Satake, the man to whom Yayoi's husband owed money?

The back of this book calls this a “masterpiece of literary suspense and a pitch-black comedy of gender warfare.” And also “a moving evocation of the pressures and prejudices that drive women to extreme deeds, and the friendships that bolster them in the aftermath.” I can see where some of that came from, but overall I think it's misleading.

For one thing, these women were not friends. Not at all. The only person who believed that was Yayoi, who was a bit silly and prone to believing her own lies. Yoshie believed in Masako's strength and knew that the horrible things they did together created a kind of bond, but I don't think she was stupid enough to truly think they were friends. Masako was a strange mix of leader and loner, and Kuniko only looked out for herself.

I'm also not sure where the “pitch-black comedy of gender warfare” stuff came in. This book wasn't so much darkly comedic as it was just...dark. And I wouldn't have said it was about gender warfare. I mean, gender played a part in the story, but not in the way the back of the book led me to expect. Yoshie felt defeated when she realized that her teenage daughter could get a higher-paying job than her, simply because she was younger and cuter. Kuniko wanted to get a job as a hostess, but wasn't pretty enough to even get a second glance. Masako spent 22 years at her company, only to be driven out when she asked for higher pay after realizing that the men who'd started working there at the same time as her made far more than she did. The best (or only) job any of them could find was the night shift at the factory. The odd hours they worked created an even bigger rift between themselves and society and their families.

Disposing of Yayoi's husband's body gave them all the beginnings of a way out of their situations, but it also drove them even deeper into the gutter life had led them into. Although Yoshie and Kuniko's initial reactions to the idea of cutting up a corpse was horror, they were both soon seduced by the prospect of money. Masako was harder to figure out. Even now, I'm not sure that I understand her.

I'm the sort of reader who prefers stories with at least one likeable character I can root for. This book had maybe two people who weren't awful in some way, but no truly likeable characters. As for characters I could root for, Masako came the closest. I wouldn't have mourned if the cops had closed in on her, but when it came to the tense cat-and-mouse game in the last quarter of the book, I wanted her to succeed. I was more repulsed by Satake than I was by her.

The corpse dismemberment scenes were gross, but they didn't bother me anywhere near as much as the flashbacks to Satake's past and the possibility of what he might do later on in the book. When he was younger (maybe a teenager? I can't remember), he went after a woman with the intention of scaring her. Instead, he raped and tortured her, stabbed her, and then raped her some more as she bled out. The first flashback was very short and read, at first, like a regular sex scene until it became obvious that the “warm, sticky liquid” (37) was actually blood. The next couple flashbacks were even longer, although thankfully not quite as erotically written as the first one. I'd have preferred it if the longest one of the bunch had been cut, but unfortunately it turned out to be setup for a scene near the end of the book.

Here's where I get into spoiler spoiler territory, but I really feel like I should write about it. The last 15 pages of this book were brutal –more rape, more torture, and then more rape. What made it even worse was Kirino first wrote everything from Satake's POV and then wrote the exact same scenes from Masako's POV. All that awfulness, twice. I might have handled it better if Masako had been able to hold onto her rage, and if she had felt triumphant at the end. Instead, Kirino diluted all of that with Stockholm syndrome.

Despite several difficult to believe moments (for starters, what kind of security company gives out the home address of one of their employees to random callers?), this was mostly a very gripping story. Unfortunately, the ending just did not work for me. I doubt I'll seek out any of Kirino's other books.

Rating Note:

This is the kind of book that leaves me feeling torn. On the one hand, I wanted to give it fewer stars because the ending repulsed me so much, and because I was never able to understand what drove Masako. On the other hand, I felt like it deserved more stars because the characters and events grabbed and held my attention so well. In the end, I settled on 3 stars.

(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.) ( )
  Familiar_Diversions | May 1, 2016 |
I love the twisted & grotesque, yet beautiful aspect in Natsuo Kirino's writing. I very much enjoyed reading this book. ( )
  zombiehero | Mar 25, 2016 |
I'd very much recommend this book to fans of Koushun Takami's Battle Royale. Although the stories are very different, there's a similarity of style, and a similar theme of the exploration of the possibility of underlying violence in the psyche of the average citizen of Japan.
In 'Out' we are introduced to a group of Japanese women who are part-time night workers at a factory. They're all poor and each is dealing with a collection of personal and family problems. But when one, in an unprecedented revolt, strikes back against her abusive husband and strangles him to death, they are all brought into a plot to cover up the crime. For a while, it seems like they have been successful - the murder is pinned on a local casino owner and pimp. But when the casino owner is released for lack of evidence, his career ruined by the media revelation that he was formerly a gang member who brutally raped and murdered a woman - he is out for revenge. The women are in more trouble than when they were in fear of the law.
Excellent characterization and character interaction, and a tensely drawn plot. Good crime novel. ( )
  AltheaAnn | Feb 9, 2016 |
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» Add other authors (19 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Natsuo Kirinoprimary authorall editionscalculated
Collard, DylanPhotographersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ligterink, YolandeTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Origlia, LydiaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Snyder, StephenTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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"The way to despair is to refuse
to have any kind of experience...."

—Flannery O'Connor
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She got to the parking lot earlier than usual. The thick, damp July darkness engulfed her as she stepped out of the car.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0099472287, Paperback)

In the Tokyo suburbs four women work the draining graveyard shift at a boxed-lunch factory. Burdened with chores and heavy debts and isolated from husbands and children, they all secretly dream of a way out of their dead-end lives. A young mother among them finally cracks and strangles her philandering, gambling husband then confesses her crime to Masako, the closest of her colleagues. For reasons of her own, Masako agrees to assist her friend and seeks the help of the other co-workers to dismember and dispose of the body. The body parts are discovered, the police start asking questions, but the women have far more dangerous enemies -a yakuza connected loan shark who discovers their secret and has a business proposition, and a ruthless nightclub owner the police are convinced is guilty of the murder. He has lost everything as a result of their crime and he is out for revenge. OUT is a psychologically taut and unflinching foray into the darkest recesses of the human soul, an unsettling reminder that the desperate desire for freedom can make the most ordinary person do the unimaginable.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:25:19 -0400)

Kirino's searing novel tells a story of random violence in the staid Tokyo suburbs, as a young mother who works a night shift making boxed lunches brutally strangles her deadbeat husband and then seeks the help of her coworkers to dispose of the body and cover up her crime.… (more)

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