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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Kirino Natsuo

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To purchase Out

Title: Out
Author: Kirino Natsuo
Genre: Novel
Written: 1997 (Eng. 2003)
Length: 359 pages
Original in: Japan
Availability: Out - US
Out - UK
Out - Canada
Out - India
Out - France
Die Umarmung des Todes - Deutschland
Le quattro casalinghe di Tokyo - Italia
Out - España
  • Japanese title: Out
  • Translated by Stephen Snyder
  • Out won the Japan Mystery Writers' Association Prize in 1998
  • Out was made into a film in 2002, directed by Hirayama Hideyuki; an American remake, to be directed by Nakata Hideo, is scheduled for 2006

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Our Assessment:

B : elaborate thriller, decent slice-of-life stories

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Entertainment Weekly B+ 29/8/2003 Lori L. Tharps
The Guardian . 27/11/2004 Stephen Poole
The Independent . 22/10/2004 Joan Smith
Neue Zürcher Zeitung . 12/8/2003 Urs Schoettli
The NY Times Book Rev. . 17/8/2003 Katherine Wolff
The Observer . 14/11/2004 Peter Guttridge
San Francisco Chronicle . 17/8/2003 Eve Kushner
USA Today . 18/8/2003 Carol Memmott
The Village Voice . 23/9/2003 Greg Tate
The Washington Post . 31/8/2003 Katy Munger
Die Welt . 24/1/2004 Siggi Händler
Die Zeit . 20/11/2003 Tobias Gohlis

  Review Consensus:

  Not quite a consensus, but most impressed by aspects of it

  From the Reviews:
  • "What follows, as the women try to outwit the police and a mysterious stranger bent on revenge, is as much a character study of disaffected housewives as a knuckle-clenching thriller. Warning: The squeamish shouldn't check this Out." - Lori L. Tharps, Entertainment Weekly

  • "As the plot rumbles on, the flat, functional prose is occasionally illuminated by a strange lyricism. (...) The story, meanwhile, is really a framework on which she hangs a political commentary about the problems of ordinary women in contemporary Japanese society. (...) Out is a strange novel indeed: slow, relentless, banal and gleefully grisly, to the point that it can rather strain credulity." - Stephen Poole, The Guardian

  • "The novel is brilliantly constructed, powered by its own internal logic despite flaws in the plot. (...) Out is a melodrama, beautifully observed but always on the verge of detaching from reality." - Joan Smith, The Independent

  • "At its best, Out has the force of a juicy tabloid scandal: we witness the insidious merging of desperation and violence. Unfortunately, the wooden phrasing in Stephen Snyder's translation lends a potboiler quality to the novel, and the psychological explanations seem overdrawn." - Katherine Wolff, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Grim, gruesome and powerful -- but with unexpected flashes of humour -- this novel is not just a chilling read but also an intriguing underdog view of Japanese society." - Peter Guttridge, The Observer

  • "Sadism and sexuality commingle, reminiscent of Last Tango in Paris, until the characters achieve a final transformation in the unforgettable conclusion." - Eve Kushner, San Francisco Chronicle

  • "Kirino's tale is so dark, so gruesome and so depressing, it left this reader reeling. No gritty urban American tale of violence can match the horror of Out." - Carol Memmott, USA Today

  • "True to that maxim, "Don't let a woman tell it because she'll tell it all," Out may be the most ghetto Japanese novel you ever read. (...) The scarily omniscient Kirino knows not only everybody's business but everybody's mind -- her way with interior monologue is pungent and prismatic, shuffling between characters' ill-ass reveries on the same insane incident. There is a lot here about Japanese sexism, of the ageist and pedophilic kind, and the psychology of Japanese female self-loathing and existential despair." - Greg Tate, The Village Voice

  • "Out offers an intriguing look at the darker sides of Japanese society while smashing stereotypes about Japanese women. (...) Out is not easy to read. The passages of violence, in particular, are hampered by an abruptness that borders on the choppy, probably caused by the complexity of translating from the Japanese. But it is a fascinating tale nonetheless." - Katy Munger, The Washington Post

  • "Natsuo Kirino geht es vor allem um die katastrophale soziale Lage benachteiligter Frauen in einem immer noch patriarchalisch orientierten Japan." - Siggi Händler, Die Welt

  • "Kirinos Basiliskenblick auf die globalisierungszerfressene japanische Gesellschaft lässt uns ahnen, woher diese Raserei kommt: aus Kälte, Einsamkeit und Wahnsinn. Es ist nur die Umarmung des Todes, die frei macht." - Tobias Gohlis, Die Zeit

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Out shows some interesting slices of Japanese life, especially those of the women at the centre of the novel. They aren't really friends, but there's a certain solidarity among them, arising in part from their dependence on each other at work. They share the same overnight shift at a box-lunch factory, each having taken the job for a different reason. The shorter hours for the same money as any longer daytime work they could get are the main draw, but some have other reasons too.
       Masako Katori is the strongest of the bunch. Disappointed by her inability to make it in the sexist man's world of office work, she's pretty much withdrawn to this job -- though she still has a lot of inner strength left. But her family has pretty much followed her example, each going their own way: she doesn't sleep with her husband any more, and her son doesn't even speak to her: "each one of them seemed to have chosen to shoulder his own burden and face his own isolated reality."
       Masako's co-workers also have their own troubles: Yoshie Azuma is in her late 50s, her husband is dead but she has to take care of her invalid mother-in-law. Kuniko Jonouchi spends more money than she can earn, finding validation only in luxury-consumption -- which has left her deep in debt. Finally, Yayoi Yamamoto has two small children and a husband who has now gambled away all their money and brutalized her.
       All have poor relationships with the men in their lives (or the burdens these have left behind -- a mother, kids), but it's Yayoi who snaps, killing her husband. She turns to Masako for help, eventually also drawing the other two in. The solution they come up with is that the body has to disappear. So, of course, they cut it into small pieces and toss these out with the trash.
       There are problems with the plan -- weak link Kuniko, especially, who just can't do as she's told and isn't quite as effective in waste-disposal as the others. Fortunately, on the night of his death Yayoi's husband was thrown out of a club -- and got beaten up by the proprietor, Satake. Even more fortunately, it turns out Satake once killed woman, making him a perfect suspect in the murder.
       Of course, there are complications. There's someone who has been attacking the women on their way to the factory. There are Kuniko's debts, and her desperation to appease the money-lenders. There's the temptation and burden of money, as Yayoi agrees to pay off her helpers -- and then gets an enormous insurance-windfall. And there's the detective who isn't quite convinced Satake is their man:

He'd been doing some checking into the records and had turned up two common features in past incidents involving women and chopped-up bodies. One was that the crimes tended to be unpremeditiated, almost haphazard in origin, and the other was that they tended to bring out a kind of feminine sense of solidarity.
       The perceptive insights do seem a but dubious and simplistic at times:
     With all the time they spent in the kitchen, no doubt women were more used to dealing with meat and blood. They knew how to handle knives, and what to do with the garbage.
       Eventually the detective isn't the only one who suspects the women, leading to further complications (and additional dismemberment). It's a fairly fun, twisted tale, though some of the twists are a bit far-fetched and unlikely. Still, in describing these very normal lives turned upside down by murder -- and by focussing on the contrast between their day-to-day responsibilities and the criminal world Kirino offers an interesting perspective on contemporary Japanese society.
       The focus on the women's lives -- each, in some way defeated (even vacuos Kuniko, who is nothing more than a consumer) -- are the strongest element of the book, but Kirino is also quite good with some of the male characters, including Satake (for a while) and a Brazilian-Japanese co-worker at the factory. But all the characters are written as types rather than real characters, and Kirino only occasionally makes them convincing (and then, in reverting to type, undoes it again).
       Kirino eventually falls back on the gory and sensational a bit too much, and the thriller occasionally veers uncomfortably close to melodrama, but many of the everyday scenes are quite good. Kirino doesn't quite manage the world-turned-inside-out aspect, and the shifting perspectives get to be a bit much too, especially when she doesn't shift as much in the end (specifically to Satake). Still, Out is a solid thriller -- a bit messy, over-full, and long, but with enough that's worthwhile to justify most of that.

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Out: Reviews: Out - the film (2002): Out - the film (2006): Kirino Natsuo: Other books by Kirino Natsuo under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Japanese author Kirino Natsuo (桐野夏生; actually: Hashioka Mariko) was born in 1951.

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