Monday, August 29, 2005

Natsuo Kirino's "Out"

Out of all possible places, I first read a review of this book in The Onion and decided it might be enjoyable to read, despite that fact that I pretty much stay as far from mystery novels as possible, with the exception of the odd Brother Cadfael book. I am an Uncle Hugo's patron, while not simultaneously being an Uncle Edgar's patron. I was expecting something like Audition, almost more of a horror novel than a mystery novel, and in some ways the book fit that bill with its focus on dismemberment, but that certainly wasn't the thrust of the novel. The point wasn't even so much the mystery. Rather, it was more a novel about the effects of consumer culture and immigration and gender politics on Japanese society (among many things) and thus, more of a study in sociology. There didn't actually seem to be any sort of mystery at all, though in that respect I'm probably showing my mystery novel preconceptions/prejudices - it read more like a true crime novel with in depth probing of the characters involved, primarily four women working the night shift box lunch line and exhibiting different aspects of commercial interaction with the (Japanese) world and the men around them: coworkers, husbands, sons, criminals. The murder and the dismemberment that marks the beginning of the book becomes nothing more than a forgotten catalyst that forces the women into changing the dull routine they've embraced as a way to hide from a life that constricts them in so many ways. I did find the idea that the main character would share the darkest characteristics of the serial killer in the novel rather off putting - but it's supposed to be. She is a woman rejecting Japanese traditions. First cooking, then her job, then her husband and son, then her entire country, until her life has become something alien. I guess I should just be happy that she didn't become a serial killer herself - a predictability I think I'd have expected in an American book. But this book could have been about American culture almost as much as it was about Japanese culture - a look at how women, poor women, struggle against odds that are stacked against them in any way they can, filling whatever economic niche is available, regardless of how repellant, if it gives them personal and economic freedom.

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