Tuesday, February 22, 2005

This weekend I snatched rare moments whenever I could to read Out by Natsuo Kirino, the mystery bestseller that took Japan by storm back in 1998-99. Finally published here in hardcover in 2003, it was released as a Vintage paperback just last month.

I'm astonished that I've never tackled a Japanese novel before now, largely because I've never been drawn to Japanese culture or history. I searched for Out on the basis of the powerful, starred review in Publishers Weekly, which raved about it and noted Kirino's strong female characters, a rarity in Japanese literature. From the first page, Kirino gets inside her five women, portraying their home situations and their work on the assembly line in the boxed lunch factory. Kirino describes the factory in depth and, though the topic may sound dull, I was fascinated. I understand from the reviews that the story is grim and becomes a work of horror, so I may not be able to finish it, but I must say that the no-holds-barred picture Kirino presents of lower-middle-class Japanese society is eye-opening and worth the time spent.

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