Book Review: Grotesque by Natsuo Kirino

grotesqueTokyo prostitutes Yuriko and Kazue have been brutally murdered, their deaths leaving a wake of unanswered questions about who they were, who their murderer is, and how their lives came to this end. As their stories unfurl in an ingeniously layered narrative, coolly mediated by Yuriko’s older sister, we are taken back to their time in a prestigious girls’ high school—where a strict social hierarchy decided their fates — and follow them through the years as they struggle against rigid societal conventions.

Shedding light on the most hidden precincts of Japanese society today, Grotesque is both a psychological investigation into the female psyche and a work of noir fiction that confirms Natsuo Kirino’s electrifying gifts

Grotesque is a difficult book to read. None of the characters come off particularly well, as each of them (most of them women) tell their version of events leading up to, and the subsequent fall out from the murders of two schoolmates, who for various reasons have descended into prostitution.

Each of the women have their own problems, in being too beautiful, not beautiful enough, wanting something unachievable, having pressure put on them externally and internally to be *more* than they are currently.

I found it difficult to get any sympathy for any of the characters – if I remember the previous book Out correctly, I think they were a little more sympathetic even if they weren’t any nicer.

I occasionally have difficulty with books in translation, but this was not the case here – any “difficulty” was due to the situations themselves, rather than the translation.

About this author

NATSUO KIRINO, born in 1951 in Kanazawa (Ishikawa Prefecture) was an active and spirited child brought up between her two brothers, one being six years older and the other five years younger than her. Kirino’s father, being an architect, took the family to many cities, and Kirino spent her youth in Sendai, Sapporo, and finally settled in Tokyo when she was fourteen, which is where she has been residing since. Kirino showed glimpses of her talent as a writer in her early stages– she was a child with great deal of curiosity, and also a child who could completely immerse herself in her own unique world of imagination.

After completing her law degree, Kirino worked in various fields before becoming a fictional writer; including scheduling and organizing films to be shown in a movie theater, and working as an editor and writer for a magazine publication. She got married to her present husband when she turned twenty-four, and began writing professionally, after giving birth to her daughter, at age thirty. However, it was not until Kirino was forty-one that she made her major debut. Since then, she has written thirteen full-length novels and three volumes of collective short stories, which are highly acclaimed for her intriguingly intelligent plot development and character portrayal, and her unique perspective of Japanese society after the collapse of the economic bubble.

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