I’ll be honest and say that I was attracted to Out, a 1997 novel by Japanese author Natsuo Kirino, by the promise of a ‘dark’ and ‘gruesome’ piece of work. Well the premise certainly lives up to that. The novel focusses on a group of women working the night shift in a boxed lunch factory. One of the group, Yayoi, strangles her husband, who’s gambled away the couple’s savings as well as being obsessed with a hostess in a night club. Yayoi seeks the help of her colleagues in dismembering and disposing the body. As you’d expect, things don’t quite go to plan and the group’s problems start to pile up and grow more complex, when others outside of the group begin to suspect what has happened and see opportunities to make money. All the while relationships within the group start to strain…
I’ve read a number of Japanese crime fiction books and they appear to follow a similar formula: you reach a point, after a bit of a slow start, and about half way through the novel, where you wonder where the book is going to go next. Things then take a turn as something comes from left field which you’d never have thought of. Out fits this formula perfectly. It took a while to get going, and the book could certainly be shorter than its 400+ pages, but it certainly picks up pace and gets more interesting as it goes on.
The boxed lunch group itself is a diverse foursome each part of which is battling with their own problems like debt, caring responsibilities, wayward family members, etc. And here the author does a fine job in bringing the members of the group to life, so much so that we’re fully behind one member of the group, Masako (who sits at the heart of the story telling), while hoping another might die a gruesome death! Outside the foursome, the novel features a handful of other interesting characters, who come from the seedier end of the spectrum but all bring something to the party and add colour to the book.
As for gruesomeness, the novel didn’t really live up to expectations as, for example, the dismemberment ‘scenes’ were written in a quite matter of fact way, as per the way in which the dismemberment was carried out. But that’s a minor quibble and I’m sure one person’s gruesome is another’s horror.
Out does exactly what it set out to do. It’s an enjoyable and well written page-turner (once it gets going) and worth adding to the reading list.