Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Review: Out by Natsuo Kirino & A Big Thank You

She got to the parking lot earlier than usual. [First Sentence]

by Natsuo Kirino
Translated by Stephen Snyder
Vintage, 2003
Crime Fiction (S/T); 400 pgs

From the Publisher:

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.

At once a masterpiece of literary suspense and pitch-black comedy of gender warfare, Out is also a moving evocation of the pressures and prejudices that drive women to extreme deeds, and the friendships that bolster them in the aftermath.

Out is one of those novels that I find difficult to review, if only because I have a hard time putting into words why I liked this book so much. It was dark and real. The characters got under my skin (most of them, anyway), and I carried them with me even when I was not reading.

Masako stands out the most among the characters. She is a leader of sorts; the one everyone turns to when things go wrong or they need help. She is in her 40’s, stuck in a marriage that has lost its luster and is raising a son who won’t talk to her. She does not have to work at the factory, but after being burned at her former job and wanting to do something, anything, she sticks with it, despite the harsh night hours and the poor working conditions. She seems to find comfort at work and in her friendships with her workmates.

Yayoi is in an abusive relationship and trying to raise two young children while her husband gambles away their savings. It is all Yayoi can do to make ends meet. Then there is Yoshie whose strong work ethic and diligence has kept her going as she struggles to pay the bills, raise a teenage daughter and care for an elderly, not so nice mother-in-law.

Kuniko, probably my least favorite of the four characters and yet one of the more complex ones, rounds out the foursome of women who are the backbone of the novel. Kuniko is young and naïve. She spends more than she can afford, borrows money she cannot pay back, and longs to be accepted and liked. She struggles with others as much as she struggles with herself.

There is also Satake, a club owner whose sexual appetite runs to the morbid side. He’s struggling hard to maintain his self-control and out run his past, trying to establish himself as a respectable business man.

My favorite of the male characters Kazuo—a lonely soul who only wants to be accepted and loved. He is a foreigner in his father’s homeland, struggling to fit in and make a living. There is an innocence about him that makes him endearing after awhile, despite his initial introduction in the book, which is less than flattering.

Desperation drips off the four female protagonists and several of Natsuo Kirino’s other characters. Each of the characters is battered and weary. They all have had difficult lives and are struggling to survive in their own ways. Some desire money and acceptance while others simply want to be free of the invisible shackles that bind them to their lives.

The women’s actions set off a chain of events that grow more dangerous and complicated as time goes on. Each one is tested, and they are forced to take a hard look at themselves and the direction their lives have taken. The author did a good job of painting the desperation and pain of the characters. There was a dreariness that hung above the characters like a constant storm cloud, capturing the mood and atmosphere of the book perfectly.

Out is not only a suspense ridden thriller but also a harsh study of human nature. The story is as complex as the characters. I look forward to reading more by Natsuo Kirino.

Rating: * (Very Good)

Read what others had to say about this book:
Bell Literary Reflections
In Spring it is the Dawn
Melody's Reading Corner
Tip of the Iceberg

I just discovered that I won the award for Best Commenter/Commentator along with Rip My Bodice, who I would like to congratulate too. Thank you so much, especially to those who took time to vote for me! I am still in shock. The good kind, I assure you. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

I was nominated along side a wonderful group of bloggers, all who definitely deserve this title as well, and I hope you will take the time to drop in and visit them and see for yourself how friendly and great they are.

OCD, vampires, and amusing rants, oh my!
Peeking Between the Pages
Rip My Bodice
Trish's Reading Nook


  1. Congratulations on you BBAW win!!
    Books 'N Border Collies

  2. I'm glad you enjoyed this one, Wendy. It is a difficult book to review because, on the surface, it would be easy to wonder how anyone could like it! The character studies are fascinating.

  3. My friend read this and loved it and recommended it to me. I definitely plan on reading it (and your review makes me want to even more) but I have 100+ books already sitting unread on my shelves. What's a girl to do?

  4. Oh, darn. I'm NOT the first to congratulate you on your "Best Commenter" BBAW Award, but I do believe it is entirely deserved! Yay!

    This is going on my wishlist, because it sounds like it's much more than a mystery/thriller. Great review.

  5. Congratulations on winning 'Best Commenter'!! :)

    And great review! I'm glad you liked it. Mine is here, if you're interested.

  6. What a great review. If I wasn't completely convinced that I need to read Out already, this would have done it. Still, it made me more convinced :P

    Congrats on your award! You certainly deserve it :)

  7. Yay! You are the best commenter :o)

    You're right about reviewing a book like "Out." Not an easy task. I think you did a great job reviewing it anyway. Glad you liked it.

  8. Oh yeah, forgot to tell you I added a link to your review.

  9. Congrats! Hey, off topic, but did you see that Stephanie Kallos has a new book coming out in January - called Sing Them Home? Since you were the one who introduced me to Broken to You, thought you'd be interested.

  10. What a great,insightful review! I found out about "Out" at the end of another novel I was reading, one of those promotional pages. The premise of the book sounds very intriguing, although I have been very accustomed to the grim perspective of Japanese literature.


    Congrats on your award! :)

  11. Hi Litty Kitty!
    I read Kirino's GROTESQUE and had mixed feelings about it. I think it had similar qualities to what you describe in this book. I may have to check out OUT since you recommend it so highly.

  12. I've heard a lot of good things about Out so it was added to my TBR pile recently. :)

    Congrats on your award, Wendy! It's very well-deserved. :)

  13. Hi Wendy, I like the sound of this book. I will add it into my wish list and in time, it shall be in my TBR. :)

  14. Congratulations on BBAW "Best Commenter"! And thanks for the comments you leave over at my blog :)

  15. I've been seeing this one around alot lately--and I just finished my first Japanese book and am hungry for me. Thanks for the review--I'll put it on the list!

    And also--congrats on the award! You are extremely deserving and I was thrilled to see you won. Best of luck for the next award as well (you had my vote!!).

  16. Congrats on the award! Isn't this all so much fun?

  17. Natasha - The entire week is a whirlwind of fun! I'm so glad to be a part of it. Thank you!

    Trish - Thank you! I think you are equally deserving. My vote went to you. :-)

    I had been meaning to get to this book for awhile now. It's my first book for the TBR Challenge (boy, am I ever behind on that!).

    Dawn - Thank you! I still can't believe I won.

    Alice - It's a really good one, Alice. I had heard about it quite a while ago and had been meaning to read it for what seems like forever. I'm glad I finally was able to get to it. It made for good long flight reading. :-)

    Melody - Thank you! I do hope you will read it, Melody! It's very dark, but such a good story.

    Amy - I have GROTESQUE on my TBR shelf to read. I have heard it isn't quite as good as OUT. If you do read OUT, I hope you will like it. It's not the easiest subject matter to read about.

    Jen - Thanks so much!

    Book Zombie - Thank you! Have I ever told you how much I like your nickname?

    Matt - That is such a compliment coming from you, thank you!

    And thank you for the congratulations on the award.

    Carrie K. - Your my new best friend! Thanks for the information about Stephanie Kallos' new book. And thank you for the congratulations!

    Terri B - Thanks you on both counts. You helped spur me on to read this sooner than later. And thank you for adding my link to your review!

    Nymeth - Thank you! I would be really interested in getting your take on OUT. I love your insightful reviews.

    Nat - Thank you! I added your link to the review. :-)

    Florinda - I know you were the first in spirit to congratulate me, Florinda. :-) Thanks!

    If you do decide to read OUT, I look forward to reading your thoughts on it. It's quite dark, but such an interesting character study.

    Mango Missives - Tell me about it! I am in the same boat. It took me awhile to get to this one--it's been on my shelf waiting to be read for quite a while now. I am sure you will get to it when the timing is right. :-)

    Cathy - The subject matter definitely is a difficult one, not to mention the moral ambiguity may not sit well with some readers.

    Lezlie - Thank you so much!

  18. I thought OUT was outstanding. I read it quite some time ago, but the images still linger. It's definitely not a feel good book but it will stay with you.

  19. Congrats on your award Wendy! You rock :)

    I really enjoyed reading your review of Out. I just finished this past weekend but it was a haunting book.

  20. Congrats! You deserve it!

  21. Karen - It definitely is a book that will stay with me. I am so glad I finally read it. It's one of those books that makes me wonder why I waited so long to open.

    Iliana - Thank you! I look forward to reading your review of OUT.

    Debi & Anna - Thank you so much!

  22. This was a very memorable book. Thanks for the reminder in your review of how good it was. Congrats on the award Wendy


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