Grotesque – Natsuo Kirino

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Translated from the Japanese by Rebecca Copeland

Out is one of my favourite books and so I was very excited about reading Kirino’s second novel, < ?php echo amazon('0099488930','Grotesque’); ?>. Unfortunately, it failed to live up to my expectations.

Grotesque is very different in style to Out. It is slower, less gritty and without the moral dilemmas that made Out so special.

Grotesque centres around the murder of two prostitutes in Tokyo. The unnamed narrator was the sister of one of the victims and the best friend of the other. Her life becomes dominated by their deaths, as it is all anyone wants to talk about with her. We find out who the killer was very early on, so this book isn’t really a thriller, it is more like a character study. It deals with the motivations for prostitution and the process of grief following the murders of people who are close to you.

It sounds like a fascinating book, but unfortunately I found it quite boring. Some people think it is clever that the narrator was unreliable and meandered from one reflection to the next, but I found it very frustrating. There was no plot thread to drive the story forward and the ending was disappointing.  I think this quote gives you a good sense of the apathetic attitude present in this book:

You imagine Yuriko’s death shocked me, but it didn’t. Did I hate her murderer? No. Like my father, I didn’t really care about learning the truth.

I felt as though I was wading through depressive thoughts and didn’t see the point of the seemingly random snippets of their childhood lives.

There were several theoretically shocking scenes in this book, but they had no effect on me as I hadn’t bonded with any of the characters.

The writing was of a high quality and I didn’t find any of the jarring Japanese translation problems that I encountered with Out. I also loved the first chapter and her imaginative predictions of what her children would look like if she decided to sleep with various men. There were many other good paragraphs, but I’m afraid that overall the book was disappointing.

If you are interested in reading an investigation into the thoughts of a disturbed young woman then you might enjoy this book, but if you are looking for the best thriller on the planet I suggest you try Out.

stars3

 

Have you read any of Natsuo Kirino’s books?

What do you think of them?


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26 Comments

  1. Verity says:

    Hmm, not too sure that this one would appeal to me very much!

    1. Jackie says:

      Verity, I think you might actually like this, as you do seem to enjoy the slower, more thoughtful books, but perhaps you’d find the shocking parts too much? I don’t know – I haven’t seen you read anything shocking before, so don’t know how you’d react.

  2. Steph says:

    I do enjoy a good thriller and I would like to read more Japanese/Asian fiction, but I guess this isn’t the best place to start! It’s too bad this one failed to live up to your expectations, especially since it had such a strong beginning.

    1. Jackie says:

      Steph, I do think this is a bad place to start. I think that labeling this book as a thriller is a mistake, because it isn’t really. It has much more in common with Norwegian Wood than any thriller I’ve read. If you like thrillers then I suggest that you read Out – I think you’d love it.

      1. mee says:

        Was it a problem of expectation then? I loved both Out and Norwegian Wood, so close to either one sounds pretty interesting to me — at least I know what to expect now. I’ve been reading mixed reviews on Grotesque, so I’m not that enthusiastic to pick it up. Not yet.

        1. Jackie says:

          mee, I was expecting something else, but even if I had been expecting a reflective book I wouldn’t have enjoyed this one.

          I enjoyed Norwegian Wood too, but Grotesque had no plot thread, was too long. It seemed to be random thoughts, with no real structure. It is suppossed to be very literarty, with lots of hidden layers, but I was too bored by it’s lack of emotion to want to look for them.

  3. I’ll read Out and then take it from there.

    Have you read any Ryu Murakami? I haven’t yet but really want to; his gritty Japanese thrillers may be perfect for you after this disappointment.

    1. Jackie says:

      Claire, I’m sure that you’ll enjoy Out – I hope that you manage to find a copy soon.

      I haven’t read any Ryu Murakami before. I have seen it on Amazon a lot, but never on a blog. Have you read any? Which would you recommend?

      1. I have a copy of Out waiting on the shelf for that elusive free moment to be read (I’ve had it since August ’08!)

        As I said, haven’t read any Ryu Murakami yet but full intend to. I would love to love two Murakamis! In the Miso Soup seems to be the most well-known and probably the best place to start.

        1. Jackie says:

          Claire, Sorry – I realised that you’d said you haven’t as soon as I pressed reply! It might get confusing if I love two Murakamis – but it would be nice in a way too. I’ll try to get hold of one sometime.

          I hope you manage to squeeze Out into your reading schedule soon.

        2. Simon S says:

          Oooh I have read some of Ryu Murakami and he is very interesting, I read one last year which I think I posted about. I really want to read his book Piercing!

          1. And ooh, because I’ve recently finished Out, I remember that Kirino namechecks Ryu Murakami in it via one of the sleazy male characters who talks about a book written about schoolgirls who sell sex for pocket money. Curious!

  4. bellezza says:

    I’m interested to hear you disliked Grotesque, and loved Out, I’ve been meaning to read both for quite some time, but you’ve so convinced me to pick up Out first. I’m quite certain I would agree with you on the points that were dissatisfying about Grotesque; just reading them in your review irked me, too!

    1. Jackie says:

      bellezza, Sorry to hear that my review annoyed you! I’m pleased that I managed to get across the problems I had with this book though. I’m sure you’ll love Out (unless you have a problem with gore) and will be interested to hear your thoughts on it.

  5. Kathleen says:

    Sounds like Out is my better choice. Grotesque has such a stunning cover…too bad it didn’t live up to expectations!

    1. Jackie says:

      Kathleen, Yes, I’m recommend you find a copy of Out now – I hope you enjoy it!

  6. Mel u says:

    I am almost done with Out-I really was shocked I liked it a lot better than Real World which I did enjoy-Out is really a thriller-I will read Grotesque in 2010-I agree in out there are some things in the book that seem like translation errors in the speech of the characters but no big issues

    1. Jackie says:

      Mel U, I hope to read Real World soon and will be interested to find out how it compares to these too.

      I agree that the translation errors in Out were not big problems, but I did notice them. Grotesque has a different translator and I think she did a fantastic job – no problems at all.

  7. Simon S says:

    The women characters in Grotesque I found fascinating and the look on their lifestyles were intriguing and yet very dark. I liked this book a lot when I read it for a previous book group but I didnt have Out to compare it to and am glad in a way as I dont think I would have appreciated it so much.

    I think Out labelled Kirino a thriller writer and by the sounds of it she writes modern fiction about women and their lives in Asia with murder as a device to talk about their lives etc. It sounds like Out is a wonderful thriller and one I intend to read soon. I am looking forward to reading it though I dont think I will compare it to Grotesque. Interesting thoughts on an interesting author.

    1. Jackie says:

      Simon, In many ways Out isn’t a thriller either. I think she is a very talented author, who is strectching the genre definitions. Grotesque is a very literary novel and I can see why you (or other fans of reflective books) would enjoy it, but Out is in a different league. I hope that her future books are all as thought provoking and original as Out.

  8. It’s a shame that Grotesque didn’t measure up for you. I found it interesting at the time, because it was so different and I found some of the scene’s very effective but i agree 100% that Out is better :)

    1. Jackie says:

      Novel Insights, Some of the scenes were excellent, but I felt it didn’t come together as a recommendable novel. Let’s hope that the rest of her books are great!

  9. Hmm, I’m in two minds. I was completely fascinated by Out, so I do want to read this. However, if it pales in comparison, then… not-so-much! I probably will read it, but maybe I should just give it a few months, so that the thoughts on Out have faded a little bit.

  10. Melody says:

    I’d have high expectations too after reading Out, because that book is just awesome!

    I’m in no hurry reading this book after reading your review.

  11. James says:

    I’m a quarter of the way through Grotesque… and its mesmirising… part from the paedophillia and incest which is really a bit squeamish for me.

    anyways – I noticed you liked Out – I recommend Real World – I just finished that and its similar to Out except I really enjoyed the ending much more than Out… Out peters away at the end where as Real World really wraps things up nicely.

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