What continues to strike me about this novel is that, despite having finished it awhile ago, it's one of those stories I won't soon forget. Often I can read a book and a few days later if you ask me something about it, I'll be unable to conjure up anything unrelated to what I've written on this blog- I simply have more important things to remember: like when my next appointment is. Out remains in my fickle brain despite almost a month passing since I finished it, and having written no notes about it.
The many characters in Out are what hasten the plot- Yayoi Yamamoto may have been the central character in any other crime book, having been the perpetrator, but in Out that isn't the case. Her work friend Masako Katori takes the spotlight from her to help solve her "problem"- a problem I myself would find distasteful to even think about helping with. Luckily for Yayoi, her work friends are eager enough to help... for the right price.
The Plot (As Seen on Goodreads):
'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 than illuminators her stunning evocation of the pressures and prejudices that drive women to extreme deeds and the friendship that bolsters them in the aftermath.'
To be honest, the character who intrigued me most in this book wasn't all that involved: Yoshie Azuma. Yoshie is the eldest of the work crew (earning the nickname "the Skipper"), takes care of her mother in law and daughter, and doesn't have all that much money to her name, which may be why she ends up helping with the plot of Out. Kuniko rounds out the work crew as the only supremely unlikable character, who did introduce some problematic elements in my opinion. True, she was vain to an exacerbating degree, but it seemed like her weight presented more of a problem to other people's perception of her than it should have. This was originally published in Japan in 1997, which makes many of the problems I had with it seem less irksome- the '90s weren't precisely a high-tech time for crime solving, perhaps because CSI didn't premier until 2000.
As I don't often finish books involving crime and mystery, the only one I have to compare this one to is The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. In some ways, they're similar- Out is also gruesome, but has somewhat less sexual violence, and both books feature females who aren't purer than the driven snow. Where they differ is with the setting, and somewhat of a difference in the tone- I found Out to be a bit bleaker than The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, but perhaps it's because this is a standalone novel.
Out is the blast of cold air I needed this October in terms of shaking up my usual tried-and-true genres for reading. It hasn't converted me into a crime thriller fan, but the next time I see a translated crime thriller, I'll be all the more likely to pick it up. I recommend Out for those who enjoy darker elements in the human nature, because this one lacks a fairytale ending.
Rating: 4 of 5 Stars for an excellent crime thriller that gave me chills.
Age Advisory: Ages 18+ for graphic violence, sexual violence/assault, and fearsome women.
Page Count: 400 pages