GROTESQUE by Natsuo Kirino
Well what can I say about 'Grotesque' by Natsuo Kirino?
After reading Kirino's 'Out', (her first book translated from its original Japanese into English) reviewing it on Ciao and thoroughly enjoying it, I could not wait to read Grotesque.
Overall it has to be said that it is probably not as fast paced or as exciting a novel as 'Out' but it is definitely more indepth in terms of the richness of the characters and the need to know what happens to them.
The book for the most part is narrated by a central, female character who remains anonymous to you the reader. Well, anonymous in the fact that we know who she is but never learn her first name.
Two prostitues are murdered and the narrator tells us the back story from twenty years previous. The two murdered prostitues are her younger sister and an old school aquaintance. The book leads up to the murders in a series of narrations, diaries and journals.
This gives the story different view points from the narrator, her sister, the friend and the suspect in the killings. Through these journals you can piece the story together and make up your own mind on what to believe or discard.
My Thoughts On The Book and The Storyline
The first third of the book is narrated to you and is a sisters very bitter, twisted view on her life and that of her younger sister. A third of the way through she invites you to read her younger sister's diary but warns you that it contains a lot of lies about herself and that you shouldn't believe all that you read.
The sister, 'Yuriko Hirata', reveals her life to you through her diary and makes you question things that you have already been told; but who is lying?
The book reverts to the narrator before we go onto the murder trial and then the subsequent journals of the suspected killer. The journal of 'Zhang Zhe Zhong' is thought provoking in many ways and gives you an insight into the lives of a poor chinese farming family and his struggle to get away to a major city with his sister in tow. Then eventually onto Japan and the problems that face a Chinese national living there illegally. The train journey to the city is a real eye-opener.
After hearing reading the suspects journal we move onto another character; the narrators aquaintance from school and the other murdered woman, 'Kazue Sato'.
This for me was the most revealing of the journals and really gives you an insight into the mentality and workings of a prostitute in a male dominated Japan.
The diaries, journals and narration all culminate into one and deliver a story which is shocking, distasteful and yet utterly fascinating and intriguing.
The sister of Yuriko Hirata and primary teller of this dark, harrowing tale is a bitter, twisted and mildly depressive, empty shell of a woman who has lived in the shadow of her sister's beauty her whole life. Infact, people can't believe that she is Yuriko's sister because they look so unlike each other. The narrator comes across as an outspoken, no nonsense straight talker, who borders on being a bully at times.
She attended the Q High School for girls, which is a school for the natural inteligently gifted student and held in high regard all over Japan.
Her mother is Japanese and her father is Swiss, which leaves her and her sister with the tag of 'Half' due to there mix of Japanese and European looks. She has always hated her sister and manipultes the weaker girl Kazue Sato.
The Narrators younger sister. She is so beautiful that she is considered a monster by her older sister. Everywhere she goes she attracts attention. People stop and stare and talk of her beauty.
Yuriko enters the Q School because of her looks and the cravings of an older teacher who enchanted by her beauty gets her in despite some of the lowest marks he has ever seen. She meets up with the same teachers son, who becomes her pimp and later her manager after they expelled from school.
Yuriko is murdered in her thirties.
Probably the sadest, yet most intriguing character in the book. Kazue is a clever girl who gets into the Q High School on merit. Once there however, she can not fit into any of the cliques or groups. She is a strange loner, desperate to fit in and becomes disillusioned and develops an eating disorder.
In later life she holds down a good job, for a woman, in Japanese society but by night becomes her alter ego 'Yuri', a prostitute. Her journal is a harrowing but great read and I was saddened and enthralled all at once by her character. If the Narrator is a complex character then Kazue Sato is an enigma.
Kazue is also murdered in her thirties.
Zhang Zhe Zhong
Zhang, as mentioned earlier is the suspected killer of the two prostitutes. A native of China who tries to escape a life of poverty with his sister along for the ride. After the death of his sister....was she murdered? Zhang finds his way to Japan. He loved his sister deeply and harboured incestual feelings towards her. After her death he resorts to sleeping with prostitutes and fantasing that they are his sister (lovely I know).
His journal is also a fantastic read and really makes you feel how much of a struggle it is for a poor chinese man living illegally in Japan. He faces major hardship and can't hold down a job. He lives rough after being evicted by his three flat mates. He thoughts turn to surving the only way he knows how; By deceit.
Quotes and Blurbs
There are three quotes on the back cover.
'' Suicide, paedophilia, incest and murder combine to form a story that will leave you questioning your own mortality '' - Dazed and Confused
'' Delves so deep into its own shock horror premise that much contemporary fiction appears cheap and exploitative by comparison....an utterly absorbing novel '' - Metro
'' Grotesque is not so much a crime novel as a brilliant, subversive character study...it is a triumph. In its boldness and originality, it broadens our sense of what modern Japanese fiction can be '' - Daily Telegraph.
'' Cool, angry and stylish '' - The Times
You must agree that those quotes make you want to read this book even if my review does not.
Summary and Final Thoughts
Don't let the title of the book put you off if you're squeamish. Grotesque isn't full of gore, violence and explicit scenes like 'Out'. What it is full of is depravity, despair, deceipt and downright desperation.
It is an alarming read and the depth of the characters is so well drawn by Kirino. The author knows how to keep your interest and it is one of those books that keeps you turning the pages in order to satisfy your curiosity as to where the story is going and where it will end up.
Sometimes I really did found myself wondering were the story was going but the individual characters are so interesting that you just flow along with it and eventually it all engages and makes sense. Kirino really has got an amazing grasp on the human psyche and her characters deliver some powerful messages.
It shocks and disturbs, it intrigues and provoke's thought at every turn. It really is a deep exploration of three woman and one man's struggle to grasp and hold onto the very edge of their lives at the cusp of disaster, forever chasing the promise of enlightenment.
I found myself going back to it more often than I normally would a book. I also found myself rereading parts just to convince myself that they were as harrowing as I first thought.
I would really recommend this book to anyone who has read 'Out' or anyone who just wants to read something different and strikingly original.
A thumbs up for me and I can't wait to get hold of the third translated book 'Real World'.
Natsuo Kirino is fast becoming one of my fave authors and I hope to hell that they translate all her other books.
As ever, thanks for reading.
Grotesque by Natsuo Kirino
Published in 2007 by Vintage books
Translated from Japanes to English by Rebecca Copeland.
Japanese version printed in 2003
Paperback. Small print. 467 pages.
Ever since i read Natsuo Kirino's 'Out' book, i have been hooked by this woman like a fish on a ....hook? lol. After i read 'Out' i searched frantically for another book of hers which was just as good, just as gruesome as 'Out' had been and thus i came across the book that gives me the creeps, the book which made me fear Japan and the world, the book which would 'leave you questioning your own morality' as Dazed and Confused kindly hastened to add. I'll admit it was long (467 pages long!) but trust me its worth it! But if you're one of those readers who thought Harry Potter and the Philospher's stone was long then i'm sorry but you'll be beat by the time you get to the end of this book (thats if you DO get to the end of this book, mind). So for those who are willing to read this long book, then fasten your seatbelts because you're heading for a long and fascinating ride which WILL make you question everything you have learnt or been taught in your lifetime either mentally or psychologically, so i suggest you fasten it tight and don't go off the rails.
The plot itself is quite spectacular and insidious to a point where as you are steadily but assuredly steered into the darker pools and recesses of the human mind, you are confronted with characters you neither respect nor care to understand and yet, you DO see yourself in them because they are merely humans who are trying to deal with life's odd scraps of indecency and outrageous tantrams.
The story is about a woman whose name is never known thus we are chosen by Kirino to be distanced from the 'supposed' main character from the start, her sister Yuriko and her friend Kazue have both been murdered and it has been discovered that they had been working as prostitutes even though strangely both had been attending an elite school for young ladies which was seen as the best school to be in twenty years ago. So, Yuriko's sister's overall question is- why were they murdered? And why did they culminate in such a horrid way, with such a derogatory profession as being a prostitute? Especially for two seemingly successful intelligent Japanese women.
This is the question which plagues her mind and the minds of the locals who could not understand how such a thing could happen to such elite people but she knew. Her persistence in finding out and delving into the murky depths of Yuriko's and Kazue's lives by exploring the contents of both of their diaries leaves you feeling a type of connection with Yuriko and Kazue, especially if you are a woman who has felt inadequate whilst looking in the mirror or glancing in the direction of a love interest or if you feel that you have no purpose in life due to your gender indentity as a woman. These feelings of deep doubt and at times justifiable bitterness flash across both Yuriko and Kazue, both women represent all women with their feelings of inadequancy, low self-esteem, low self-confidence and just not allowing themselves to feel free in the world, as the pressure of the world brings them down and makes them feel inferior to the treachery of man. In fact, a male worker had actually said to Kazue: "That's because you don't understand the first thing about a man's world", a quote which outraged Kazue to such a degree, but also this may have only fuelled her ever-growing feelings of inferiority towards men, or indeed power.
The story's themes will leave many shocked at just how extensively Kirino has sought to portray these issues, especially when this IS a crime novel as well, issues such as suicide, paedophilia, incest, murder, prostitution, sexism and bullying in the workplace and other many facets of issues enable us as the reader to have a taste of what a Japanese woman or any woman is likely to experience based on the world she steps in. But, this does not mean that every woman will go around hanging themselves just because they're jealous of someone or commit incest just because they have low self-esteem. No, this means that the world around us contributes to the issues which happen and take place and is common in some parts of the world, including Japan and this is what the book is all about.
Natsuo Kirino gives us a character analysis of these characters but its up to us to know how we truly feel about them and whether we can truly understand why they made the choices that they did, which inevitably lead to their deaths. So, if you wish to read this, please be open-minded when you do and don't feel shocked at some of the issues and ideas presented because look around you, its not just happening in Japan or China- its happening in your world. So take a deep breath and dig in.
Grotesque is one of three of Natsuo Kirino's books to be translated from Japanese into English. I read this after one of the others, "Out", which was brilliant, and this one doesn't disappoint either.
The story follows the life of two young Japanese women who are murdered. Both have turned to lives of prostitution, but for different reasons. The main narrative is told from the point of view of one of the women's sisters, along with excerpts from the diaries of the two, as well as the deposition of the man accused of their murders. This is an interesting style, as it allows the reader to experience the story from the viewpoints of all the characters involved.
The book also gives fascinating insight into Japanese culture, as well as exploring psychological issues and circumstances which can lead people to make desparate and difficult life choices. A lot of the main narrative is often very dark, and sometimes sinister. The book also probes some taboo subjects such as exploitation and paedophilia, but with delicacy and sensitivity.
I did enjoy this book, but don't feel that it was quite as good as the author's other two books - possibly because the story sometimes makes for some uncomfortable reading. Definitely worth a look though.
With its frightening cover and "in your face" title, as soon as you pick up this book you know you're in for something a little different, and probably a bit scary. Grotesque is a shocking, disgusting, horrifying, and very dark novel. And I loved it.
Grotesque was written by Natsuo Kirino, a Japanese writer who has gained a cult following for her crime novels that go way beyond most of the other novels in the genre in terms of characterisation and motivations. Upon reading another of Natsuo Kirino's books, Out, I immediately became hooked on her style of writing and decided to read as many of her books as I can, given that most of them have not yet been translated from the Japanese. One of the few that has been translated is Grotesque.
Grotesque tells the story of some of the girls that are admitted to the elite Q high school for girls in Tokyo. In this rarefied setting, it seems that the girls would only have superficial worries. Which school club to join, whether they have the right designer clothes, and whether they are in with the cool group or orbiting as outsiders. But these seemingly small troubles mixed with the warped personalities of some of the students grow into something much sinister. As you learn right from the beginning of the book, two of the girls grow up to become prostitutes who are then murdered.
What amazes me the most about Kirino's books is the way she is able to write about small details of a character's life and use them depict the raging turmoil that's going on inside her mind. We can almost smell the antiseptic frugality of Kazue's parents home, taste the packets of dried squid that she buys as nearly her only sustenance, and feel the eyes of other students and colleagues drilling into her as they look at her with contempt.
Grotesque is not a book everyone would enjoy. For one thing, it is very explicit in a way that would probably turn many readers off. For example, we learn the details of the interactions between prostitutes Yuriko and Kazue and their customers. These details become even more sickening as the women spiral further and further downwards, sinking to new lows in the types of customers they see and the acts they perform with them.
Another issue with the book is that it becomes less believable towards the end than it did in the beginning, and the story is never wrapped up as neatly as I had hoped for. I expected to see the motives of the narrator revealed in greater detail, for example, and this never happened. I felt the slight disappointment in the ending was the same as that I felt when reading Out, another of Kirino's novels, so perhaps this is part of her writing style to never give a neat ending, but instead leaving the reader to think about what happened and ponder the motivations for themselves.
As someone who is interested in Japanese culture this book enabled me to see the underside of this society that other contemporary Japanese novelists such as Haruki Murakami with his more storybook style of writing never quite reveal. This novel was a fascinating look at the darker side of life that I will not forget anytime soon.