Out is a literary crime novel by Natsuo Kirino. It was first published in Japan in the late nineties and the English translation by Stephen Snyder came out in 2003. I found my copy in a charity shop where the phrase 'perverse feminism' in a cover comment, along with the fact that it won the Japanese Grand Prix award for crime fiction, persuaded me to part with a couple of quid.
The story concerns four friends who work the night shift in a boxed-lunch factory. One of them murders her abusive husband and the others help her to cover up the crime, but this is only the start. What follows is a mixture of horror and farce as this unconventional psychological thriller unwinds in the suburbs of Tokyo.
The way the husband's body is dealt with is pretty grisly and I was close to discarding the book here as I couldn't have coped with that level of graphic gore throughout, but thankfully the author eased up a little, at least until later on.
Of the women, it is not the killer - little pretty Yayoi, who drives the novel, but her colleague Masako. Masako is a strange figure, steely and smart, she has admirable qualities but isn't easy to like. Yoshie is the oldest, most sympathetic of the women, and Kuniko the least sympathetic and most shallow, although she did feel a little easy - too much of a stereotype. There are some well drawn male characters; a local nightclub owner, Satake, who has a very dodgy secret and an interest in finding out who the killers are, and then there's Jumonji, a loan shark with big ideas who further complicates the plot. None of the characters are particularly likeable.
There is some excellent subplotting and it all comes together without feeling too contrived. For some reason I was reminded of the film 'Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels', even though I'm sure many people would struggle to draw comparison.
As for the 'perverse feminism', well I'd disagree with that. There were some interesting points made about the womens status in society, but I'd imagine the comment was based more on the reasoning that it's a story about four women who commit a crime, which isn't enough to make it feminist. There were actually some distinctly anti-feminist elements, such as the idea that one character was pleased by the idea that she looked young enough to be an attractive target for a 'pervert' hanging around the factory who had sexually assaulted some of the workers. I found there to be some strange fallacies around the issue of sexual violence. Maybe there was a problem in the translation. I have heard the translation criticised, especially the ending, and wonder if a female translator would have done a better job, particularly with regard to translating female thoughts and emotions in a rape scene.
Out isn't just about a crime and it's repercussions. At times it reads like a meditation on the pointlessness of existence. It explores the question of how well we can ever know another person and what acts they, and ourselves, are capable of. Kirino is pretty good at creating atmosphere too. The womens' daily three minute journey along an 'unpaved, ill-lit road' between car park and factory had me tense every time.
At 416 pages Out is a lengthy read and took me longer to get through than anything I've read in a while. I found I was happy to read a little each night, but wasn't so taken by it that I either stayed up late or started reading chunks of it during the day. Some sections flowed much better than others and I was occasionally bored, but it had enough hooks to keep me with it until the somewhat bizarre end.
In summary Out is a decent enough novel, but it's not light reading and can be gruesome. It's clever, atmospheric and unconventional, but longer than it needs to be and not always a page turner.
Christmas day 2008. One of my gifts from my uber cool giver of presents girlfriend was a novel from a Japanese author by the name of Natsuo Kirino.
The novel was titled 'Out' and was translated from its original Japanese title 'Auto' by Stephen Snyder.
I'd seen the book previously in a bookstore in Amsterdam and mentioned to my girlfriend that it sounded right up my alley.
On January 3rd 2009, I started the novel with great anticipation. It would not let me down or disappoint me in the slightest.
The story revolves around four central characters. Four female friends who work together on the dreaded graveyard shift at a Japanese Bento food and supplement factory. Masako is the level headed lynch pin of the group, although her existence is a lonely one with her being ostracized by her son and having had a bitter relationship with her estranged husband. She appears to be the voice of reason and the agony aunt to the group.
Yoshie is a single mother too and her life is dominated by her Mother-in-law, who after having a stroke which paralyzed her is dependent on the depressed Yoshie.
Yayoi is the mother of two small boys who, out of desperation and necessity, are left alone at home when their mother goes to work. Yayoi lives in fear of her husband who is a drunk and a gambler. He mistreats the children and abuses Yayoi. Her time at work is spent worrying whether he has returned home to the two boys.
Kuniko is the youngest of the group and the most naïve. She is overweight and extremely vain. Her boyfriend runs out on her when they fall into debt with a loan shark, leaving Kuniko to pay the debt. Every knock at the door brings her heart to a virtual stop and working the graveyard shift is her only option.
After a hard night at work Yayoi returns home to find her husband in a drunken state. He tells her that he has lost their savings by gambling it away. A fight ensues and Yayoi ends up strangling her husband. In a desperation and mindless panic she persuades Masako to help her get rid of her husband's body. Kuniko and Yoshie become involved. In one of the most graphic scenes in a novel they dismember the body and place it at various locations around Tokyo.
Some bad people in the money lending and criminal world know what they have done and hold them to ransom and threaten them with going to the police unless they help them get rid of more bodies.
Inevitably, body parts begin to turn up and the police become involved.
What follows is a rollercoaster ride of corruption, deceit and some of the most gut-busting scenes in modern literature. The women start to distrust each other. There is a Detective on their tail. A loan shark wants his money. A nasty criminal's life has been disrupted by what the women have done and he wants revenge, so begins to hunt them down. The women start to blackmail each other and their friendship begins to crumble. Who can they turn to? Who can they trust? Can they find a way 'Out'.
I would love to tell you more about the story but I can't bring myself to spoil it for those of you who do go on to read it. What I can say is that I read an awful lot of books each year and have read twelve so far this year mid-way through March, even though I have not had much time of late. I always manage to read before bed. This book was one of the best, if not the best, books I read in 2009. I'd like to think I can recommend a good book and know that I am being honest and unbiased. However, I will praise this book to the nines as it is a terrific read and I would recommend it wholly to everyone and anyone.
I would express great caution if you are tickled stomached or squeamish in any way. This book has some of the bloodiest, goriest and stomach-churning scenes in print and makes some of the banned books such as Brett Easton Ellis' 'American Psycho' seem tame by comparison.
Definitely for the over eighteens and not a book to be left lying around the house. The graphic nature however, is not all for show and is borne out of necessity to shock and dismay.
The dynamic between the four women is absolutely spot on and fantastically written. The plot is intricate and yet easy to follow and the structure is superb. There are some memorable characters that will live with you long after you put the book down.
If you want a book that is thought provoking, shocking, intelligent, full of great dialogue, excitingly faced paced and has characters that drawn you in, then look no further than Natsuo Kirino's 'Out'.
I really can't recommend it highly enough and I enjoyed it immensely. I have recently purchased the next translated book 'Grotesque' and it sounds really intriguing and I can't wait to read it in the upcoming months.
Natsuo Kirino or Kirino Natsuo as she is known in Japan was born October 7, 1951 in Kanazawa Japan. She is a Japanese novelist and one of the most prominent figures at the head of a prolific influx of Japanese female fiction writers.
A prolific writer, she is most famous for her 1997 novel, Out, which received the Grand Prix for Crime Fiction, Japan's top mystery award, and was a finalist (in English translation) for the 2004 Edgar Award, which it came very close to winning.
In addition, Kirino received the 1993 Edogawa Rampo Prize for mystery fiction for her debut novel, Kao ni furikakeru ame (Rain Falling on My Face), and the 1999 Naoki Prize for her novel Yawarakana hoho (Soft Cheeks).
Three of her novels (Out, Grotesque and Real World ) have been translated into English. A fourth novel, What Remains, a violent tale of childhood abuse and sexual degradation, was a best seller in Japan. Kirino, however, has expressed doubts that it will do as well in the U.S. market. I'm not so sure because if people who have latched onto 'Out', 'Grotesque' and 'Real World' buy it, then I think it will do really well. Kirino has also written in the Canongate Myth Series (concerning the myth of Izanagi and Izanami), which was published in 2009.
A Japanese film adaptation of Out, directed by Hideyuki Hirayama, was released in 2002 and was frankly a flop. New Line Cinema has purchased the rights for an American version, to be directed by Hideo Nakata (Ring, Ring 2), so let's hope that it fairs a little better or at least is made with a little more care and attention.
I was kind of hoping that the book would be made into a movie for Western viewing. I collect Japanese and Chinese cinema and their offering for 'Out' was so way off the mark. I can hear you Stephen King fans screaming 'Why...why...we know how it feels'. I just hope that it is not made as a horror film that tries to shock with over the top gore and crappy SFX. I hope the script writers stay true to the characters.
Title of book - Out
Author - Natsuo Kirino
Translator Stephen Snyder
Genre(s) Crime novel
Publisher Vintage Books
Publication date September 30 2004
Media type Print (Paperback)
Pages 388 pp (paperback edition)
OCLC Number 56467355
The above listing is shown on most book sellers websites but the page number is wrong. My paperback copy has 520 pages. The 388 may refer to the original Japanese version as a translation into English probably would swell the novels word count.
Following is the bibliography of Natsuo Kirino....
Kao ni furikakeru ame (Tokyo: Kodansha, 1993)
Tenshi ni misuterareta yoru (Tokyo: Kodansha, 1994)
Auto (Tokyo: Kodansha, 1997); English translation by Stephen Snyder as 'Out' New York: Kodansha, 2003; New York: Vintage, 2005)
Mizu no nemuri hai no yume (Tokyo: Bungei Shunju, 1998)
Faiaboro burusu [Fireball Blues] (Tokyo: Bungei Shunju, 1998)
Yawarakana hoho (Tokyo: Kodansha, 1999); French translation by Silvain Chupain as 'Disparitions' (Paris: Rocher, 2002)
Gyokuran (Tokyo: Asahi Shinbunsha, 2001)
Dâku [Dark] (Tokyo: Kodansha: 2002)
Gurotesuku (Tokyo: Bungei Shunju, 2003); English translation by Rebecca L. Copeland as 'Grotesque' (New York: Knopf, 2007)
Kogen (Tokyo: Bungei Shunju, 2003)
Riaru warudo (Tokyo: Shueisha, 2003); English translation by J. Philip Gabriel as 'Real World' (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2008)
Zangyakuki (Tokyo: Shinchosha, 2004); English translation as 'What Remains' (London: Harvill Secker, 2008)
Tamamoe! (Tokyo: Mainichi Shinbunsha, 2005)
Boken no kuni (Tokyo: Shinchosha, 2005)
Metabora (Tokyo: Asahi Shinbunsha, 2007)
Tokyo-jima (Tokyo: Shinchosha, 2008)
Yasashii Otona (Tokyo: Chuokoron-Shinsha, 2010)
Sabiru kokoro (Tokyo: Bungei Shunju, 1997)
Jiorama [Diorama] (Tokyo: Shinchosha, 1998)
Rozu gâden [Rose Garden] (Tokyo: Kodansha, 2000)
Ambosu mundosu [Ambos Mundos] (Tokyo: Bungei Shunju, 2005)
Here is the link to Natsuo's website, which can be viewed in Japanese or English...
I for one am looking forward to reading more work by Natsuo Kirino and I hope this review gets at least some of you to give 'Out' a go.
Thanks for reading.
I have to say that this book is totally different from most books i have read previously. It's translated from it's Japanese text and gives an insight into the cultural and literal differences from Western culture to that of Asia. I wanted something different and I got it.
The story itself is very dark and centres on a group of Japanese female factory workers who get drawn into murder and the covering up of the crime. All of the women have character flaws too which I think is excellent, although that makes it hard to route for any of them in the story. The descriptive brings to mind a lot of greys and black in a world of poverty in the Japanese suburbs but is an excellent read for it. It has deception, honesty, evil and laziness amongst many other traits in people and is a fascinating study in friendship and betrayal.
I don't want to give away too much of the story so I will sum up with the fact that I loved it for it's diversity and complete change in style to most novels. At times quirky, at others extremely morbid but definitely one to read if you want to experience a change of author.
I've always been a fan of Japanese culture in every sense of the word, ever since i was a teenager, so it was no surprise that i would get into Japanese books too. I found this book tucked away almost secretively in a dusty corner of a charity shop.
The book 'Out' by Natsuo Kirino who has been termed as a 'rare breed of crime writer' from Japan is so speculative of the human psyche, that at times it has frightened me of the depths that Kirino was prepared to explore in the book. The plot itself was quite bizarre, nothing i've ever experienced before, to put it mildly it was a cross between Agatha Christie and a gruesome Stephen King novel. Its based on four 'supposed' friends who were Masako, Yayoi, Yoshi and Kuniko, they were leading a dull existence attending to a somewhat never-ending grave-yard shift work at a luncheon-pack factory where they work together to get their shifts done. However, one event changed everything, yet again they had to work as a team but this time under abnormal circumstances.
Kirino manages to capture the inane feeling of nothingness and nihilism which is symbolised by the night-time work at the factory which prevents the four women from living a daylight life, which is seen as the norm. The mundane and isolated private family lives of the women further adds interest as the misery of living life is clear for all to see.
The story also gives an insight into darker issues which are usually seen as taboo subjects to discuss in most countries, especially Japan such as suicide, murder, prostitution, sexism and bullying in the workplace, sadomasochism, paedophilia, molestation (which has become a problem for most high-school girls in Japan as they face constant molestation at the hands of middle-aged men, students and other men whilst travelling to high school). But if you do not wish to read a story where human gore is a definite aspect of the story then forget it, look for a nice romantic novel instead because with Kirino, things are dark- real dark.
This book was recommended to me by a friend at work, and I was unsure, as I have never read Japanese fiction before, and it wasn't necessarily the kind of book I normally go for. However, since reading this, I have bought the author's other two books (only three have been translated into English), and I feel have broadened my literary horizons.
The book follows a group of Japanese women working the night shift in a food-packing company, each with their own home and money problems, as they get drawn into a world of murder, secrets and the Japanese mafia. It is a fascinating tale, and provides a really interesting insight into Japanese culture. Occasionally a bit gruesome though, with fairly detailed descriptions of dismemberment and murder, but in the context of the story, doesn't feel like it is just there for the shock value.
The book effectively explores the depths that ordinary people can sink to in the worst circumstances, as well as the importance and strength of enduring friendship. I would strongly recommend this, along with the author's other books, "Grotesque" and "Real World".