Out by Natsuo Kirino

Publisher: Vintage Classics
Publication Date:
03/10/2019 (original publication: 15/07/1997)
Length: 528 pages
Genre:
Translated Fiction | Japanese Fiction | Thriller

CW: sexual assault, domestic abuse, murder, body horror, graphic depictions of violence

Blackwells.co.uk

Natsuo Kirino’s novel tells a story of random violence in the staid Tokyo suburbs, as a young mother who works a night shift making boxed lunches brutally strangles her deadbeat husband and then seeks the help of her co-workers to dispose of the body and cover up her crime.

The ringleader of this cover-up, Masako Katori, emerges as the emotional heart of Out and as one of the shrewdest, most clear-eyed creations in recent fiction. Masako’s own search for a way out of the straitjacket of a dead-end life leads her, too, to take drastic action.

The complex yet riveting narrative seamlessly combines a convincing glimpse into the grimy world of Japan’s yakuza with a brilliant portrayal of the psychology of a violent crime and the ensuing game of cat-and-mouse between seasoned detectives and a group of determined but inexperienced criminals. Kirino has mastered a Thelma and Louise kind of graveyard humor that illuminates her stunning evocation of the pressures and prejudices that drive women to extreme deeds and the friendship that bolsters them in the aftermath.

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Review

Typically, I don’t tend to reach for a crime or thriller novel. Whilst I have read many good books in the genre, it isn’t one that I find myself eager to pick up. I treated myself to the Penguin Vintage Classics Japanese Series (which I thoroughly recommend in itself), which is how I came across Out, which I may have missed otherwise!

For me, what immediately set this novel apart from other crime novels I have read in the past is that it is entirely told from the ‘criminals’ perspective. Whilst the novel generally follows Masako, the level-headed leader of the group, the perspective does shift to the other three women too so you see how all of them are dealing with what they have done. I loved Masako, I thought she was a great character to bind the women together. When Yayoi asked for help to dispose of a body, I don’t imagine many people would react the same way that Masako did. She quickly thought of a, quite gruesome, plan and set straight to work. All of the women would go to her for advice on what they should be doing, because she was so reliable and rational in her thinking.

At first you wonder what Masako’s motives are, as for two of the other women you can clearly see that it is money. Then through the novel you begin to see how Masako is bored with her ‘normal’ life and she begins to develop. Although Kuniko and Yoshie both have the motive of money, the two women could not be more different in their personalities and approach. Now, I’m going to be honest, I didn’t like Kuniko at all (although, I’m pretty sure that we’re not really meant to). Compared to Yoshie she was greedy, selfish and infuriating but that didn’t mean that the chapters in her perspective weren’t interesting. 

I was completely gripped by this novel, the characters were so well written that I just had to know what was going to happen. Unlike some other crime novels that I have read before, I genuinely had no idea how it would end and I found myself rooting for the women and hoping that they found a way out of the mess that they were in. Kirino’s writing in this novel is brilliant and there were a few twists to further develop an already complicated situation. There are a few more things I could say about this novel, however I don’t want to spoil impactful plot points!

I was pleasantly surprised with how much I enjoyed this novel and I would recommend this novel, whether you are a fan of crime novels or not!

Rating: 5 out of 5.

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