Today’s post is brought to you by Gordon of We Fly Spitfires. He typically blogs about MMORPGs, so I hope he has enjoyed being able to critique and review something besides quest text. Enjoy!
Described as a crime novel, Out is not the sort of book I typically read. It’s written by a foreigner (euch!) and focuses on four middle age women with no central male protagonist whatsoever (heresy!). Yes, I know, I know, I would be quite as home sitting on a porch in 19th century South Africa pruning my 10″ moustache and stroking my blunderbuss as if it were a pet cat.
Set in Japan, the plot revolves around four Japanese women of varying age, personality and background, all brought together by the fact that they work night shifts in a Tokyo factory making lunch boxes. Oh and they hate their lives. Did I mention that? Yes, this is certainly not a happy-clappy book that’s going to fill you with chuckles and smiles although, to be fair, it’s not exactly depressing or perturbing either. Rather the whole thing just is as it is and a look at life for normal women surviving in not very particularly nice circumstances, a refreshing change from the usual unrealistic positively of the fantastic books I normally read.
Although none of the women have good relationships with their husbands, one of them is particularly downtrodden by her degenerate gambling spouse. Eventually, after putting up with his abuse for years, she snaps, strangles the fellow to death with his own belt and then enlists the help of her three other co-workers to help dispose of the body. And when I say dispose, I mean literally chop the bugger up and bury each little piece of him around Tokyo. Suffice to say the body gets discovered and a whole story of death, deceit, insecurity and human emotion unfolds dragging in everyone from the police to loan-sharks to the Yakuza (Japanese mafia).
I don’t know if it’s due to the fact that Out is a Japanese novel or that it’s a genre I’ve never read before but it’s a very unusual tale with no typical sense of rhythm that you usually find in mainstream novels. Events simply unfold throughout the book and then the whole thing ends with only a certain amount of resolution. But that’s exactly the point. Natsuo Kirino, the author, clearly just wanted to show a snapshot of a few normal people’s lives, the consequences of what can happen from one action and it how it alters people afterwards. The four women characters aren’t good but then they’re not evil either, rather they come across as real, three-dimensional living and breathing people who are struggling trying to earn a buck in a big city. They’re the types of folks you could imagine bumping into anywhere and that’s exactly what makes the book so thrilling to read – you are simply fascinated to find out what happens to them next.
I could imagine the foreign nature of Out might put some readers off as it’s set in an unfamiliar city and culture. To me, however, the Japanese setting was part of the appeal as I share strong affinity with the country having visited it many times. It’s worth noting that the translation of the book has been criticised because the translator took a certain amount of liberty when converting the subject material from Japanese to English. Given the complexity of the language I can appreciate that a direct, word-for-word (or rather symbol-for-word) translation wouldn’t make for very readable material but it does raise the whole issue of whether or not non-Japanese readers can actually truly experience the original work and intention of the author.
Out is a very… interesting book. It’s not going to fill you fist-pumping cheers of happiness but then it’s not going to bore you either. It’s definitely entertaining and you’ll find yourself getting quickly and surprisingly absorbed in its dark world. All of the characters in the novel are incredibly well-crafted with realistic emotions and believable reactions and you can’t help but find yourself engrossed in their lives and situations. Well worth checking out if you’re in the mood for something a little different.
About the author: Gordon was born on the mean-streets of suburban Holland and learned to fist fight without remorse in steel cage matches at an early age. He now lives in Edinburgh with his wife and their imaginary Nigerian bodyguard, Mr Itunu.