My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
About the Author:
Natsuo Kirino (born in 1951) is the pen name of Mariko Hashioka, a Japanese novelist and a leading figure in the recent boom of female writers of Japanese detective fiction. She quickly established a reputation in her country as one of a rare breed of mystery writers whose work goes well beyond the conventional crime novel.
This fact has been demonstrated by her winning not only the Grand Prix for Crime Fiction in Japan for Out in 1998, but one of its major literary awards–the Naoki Prize–for Soft Cheeks (which has not yet been published in English), in 1999. Several of her books have also been turned into feature movies. Out was the first of her novels to appear in English and was nominated for an Edgar Award.
Publication Year: 1997
‘Out’ revolves around four ordinary women working the night shift at a boxed lunch factory whose life changes drastically after a violent incident. One of the women, Yayoi is sick of her useless husband and impulsively strangles him to death. Not wanting the incident to come to light, she seeks help from her friend Masako to get rid of the body. However, it ends up with the four women being part of the cover-up and the repercussions they face due to their entanglement in the deadly world of crime.
After Keigo Higashino’s books, this was my second thriller by a Japanese author and I’m amazed to see how much variety there is in the plot of J- crime books. They’ve got distinctive and compelling story-line that just draws you in. That being said, ‘Out’ is a dark, gruesome, disturbing psychological thriller with the themes of violence, sex. It was creepy and eerie and I found myself unable to stop reading. I was drawn to the despairing world and I found myself sympathizing with the characters.
The four main characters Masako, Yoshie, Kuniko, Yoyoi are unable to escape the drudgery of their work and life. All of them, in one way or another, are caught up in a miserable and hopeless existence of working at a backbreaking and unfulfilling job, with fallen apart relationships, abusive or unresponsive or dead husbands, unable to earn enough to get buy or taking more loans than is possible to repay etc. All of them are dissatisfied with their lives but are unable to escape it.
“You know,” she murmured, “we’re all heading straight to hell.”
“Yes,” said Masako, giving her a bleak look.”It’s like riding downhill with no brakes.”
“You mean, there’s no way to stop?”
“No, you stop all right – when you crash.”
The murder proves to be a major factor in disrupting their lives and something that changes the dynamics of their ‘friendship’. We get to see how their world is turned upside down when the deep-seated emotions inside them come to surface. Their desperation leads to the women throwing away their moral scruples in the world where they’ve no power and control over their mundane lives. The characters felt real and I could feel their pain and understand the reason behind their actions.
Apart from the four characters, they were some other interesting characters. There’s Kazuo, a Japanese-Brazilian working at the factory seeking a better life; Satsuke, a night club owner battling his own demons; Jumonji, a loan shark wanting to make money and other Yakuza members. The book is a page-turner and captures the bleak atmosphere of the criminal life, the sleazy night clubs, and the tough night shifts. We get a closer view of the Japanese society and their worldview like the conservative opinions regarding women and not readily accepting of foreigners.
The story never gets predictable and keeps you guessing untill the end. I also like how it’s written from different perspectives, it gives a little insight into their mind and past experience. Apart from that, if you’re planning to read this book then you should know it’s definitely not for everyone as there are graphic violence scenes at places. Otherwise, it’s a well-written thriller surrounding crime but focused mostly on ramifications of it on the people involved in the crime.
I definitely recommend it.