In one of those “I wish I had all the time in the world” fits I occasionally throw, I wish I could learn Japanese. My aptitude for languages is terrible; I’ve never tried learning anything remotely far east Asian. But I want to do it just to read Natsuo Kirino’s amazing books in their original form.
Like her stellar work Out, which was one of the best things I read last year and would have been the best thing I read most other years, Natsuo Kirino focuses on middle/lower class women and the patriarchal Japanese society that forces them to degrade themselves to survive. Whereas Out targeted marital relationships and labor, Grotesque focuses on familial ones and sex work.
The result is a devastating look at several individuals who go to a high end school in Tokyo and how what happened there impacts their respective lives forever, mostly focusing around sex and the male gaze. Please understand, this is not an erotic novel, not one written for titillation. Like her other works, Natsuo Kirino is writing to try and understand this world and why people feel forced into the lives they lead. Circumstances are a big part of it but Natsuo Kirino is great at articulating the inarticulate: that feeling that drives and motivates. Every character’s journey, tragic though they may be, feels fully-realized and is heartbreaking in its own respective way.
I knocked this one down a star because I disliked the ending, even more so than the ending of Out. I don’t know what lessons the main character was supposed to take from what she encountered but I felt like that wasn’t it. It didn’t sit right with me and I realize it’s probably a larger part of Natsuo Kirino’s commentary but I feel like she already made her point in the first 500 pages.
So it’s down a peg from Out but it’s still a really good book; unquestionably one of the best things I read this year. I finished most of it in a day because I couldn’t stop. Hooray for the translation but I would still love to know some day what the subtlety behind Natsuo Kirino’s work truly is.