Wednesday, May 4, 2011
Out by Natsuo Kirino
Translated version by Stephen Snyder
Paperback: 520 pages
My wife has the Japanese version of this book. She told me it was very popular. Typically I ignored it. Then months later (almost a year later) I came across a post about the book and other people were saying they had the book as well. And they liked it. So, I thought, might as well buy it and I got a copy from the book depository.
Out is the story of four women who work in a lunch-box factory (making lunches that go to convenience stores) are put in a position to do the unthinkable and the other lives this one action affects.
A young mother, Yayoi, abused by her husband who has spent all their money including millions of yen in savings finally snaps and kills her husband. Not knowing what to do, she calls her friend Masako to help her. Misako has her own problems: her son doesn't speak--by choice--and her husband just wants to be alone. She agrees to help her friend and co-worker and enlists the help of two other friends; Kuniko and Yoshie. She decides the best thing to do is to cut the body into sections and drop it in a rubbish area.
All the women are struggling to make ends meet, they have debts, especially Kuniko, whom apart from wearing fake brand products is also fat and lazy and always looking for the easy way to do something. Yoshie is looking after her bed-ridden mother-in-law (husband is deceased), her house is an old wooden building with an earthen floor entrance. She has two daughters, one eager to enter high school (if mum can find the money) and the other a single mother who drops off her child to go look for work and returns weeks later and steals all the cash Yoshie has saved up.
The book has some horrific moments which I enjoyed. There are a host of characters in the book and most are delicately balanced on the thin line of morality. The writing is strong and flows smoothly, it's also addictive to read about these characters and learn over time how they are all drawn together.
The only drawback of this book is the final chapter where it is told from one POV and the next section is the same chapter from another POV. And the Stockholm syndrome is sudden and unexpected and unbelievable.
Have I ruined the ending? Hell no. The ending is fast, violent and exciting. This book has won several crime fiction awards but I feel it is more a thriller than anything else. People unfamiliar with Japan's culture, lifestyle and thinking patterns may find the actions of four women and the business that results from it a tad on the heavy/unrealistic side but living here and understanding the way things are makes the actions in this book highly possible.
This book has a touch of everything, lonely housewives, abusive husbands, hookers, hostesses, ex-gang members, Yakuza, murder and the brilliant thing is, Natsuo Kirino blended them all together into the backdrop of the story, making it feel like a daily part of life in Japan but it all ties in.
A brilliant and enjoyable read.