Friday, January 01, 2010

Grotesque, by Natsuo Kirino

(pb; 2003, 2007: translated by Rebecca Copeland)

From the back cover:

"Life at the prestigious Q High School for Young Women in Tokyo exists on a precise social axis: a world of insiders and outsiders, of haves and have-nots. Beautiful Yuriko and her unpopular, unnamed sister exist in different spheres; the hopelessly awkward Kazue Satō floats around among them, trying to fit in. Years later, Yuriko and Kazue are dead -- both have become prostitutes and both had been brutally murdered.

"Natsuo Kirino. . . weaves together the stories of these women's struggles within the conventions and restrictions of Japanese society. At once a psychological investigation of the pressures facing Japanese women and a classic work of noir fiction, Grotesque is a. . . novel of ambition, desire, beauty, cruelty, and identity. . ."

Review:

Psychologically penetrating work about female classmates, whose acted-upon insecurities, pettiness and cruel lies mark -- ruin -- them for life.

The novel's mostly chatty (but restrained) first-person narratives -- which take on the personality of whatever character is speaking -- is intense, noiresque, crazily varied and seethes with a feminist political bent. A couple of male characters get their "air time", but they're superfluous: it's the b*tch-girls-turned-whores who are the main attraction here.

Kirino manages a fine balance of plot-flow, characterization and situational overlaps (seen from different perspectives) until three-quarters of the way through Grotesque, when one of the male characters (low-life Zhang Zhe-zhong) rambles for eighty-six pages about sh*t that has little or no bearing on any of the storylines.

In the Zhe-zhong section, I'm guessing that Kirino was injecting a psychological/stylistic variation into her multi-POV narratives, as well as establishing Zhe-zhong's background and point of view. However, this long-winded pig's rambling almost made me abandon this otherwise stunning book for a better one.

Worth reading, this -- as long as you skip the Zhe-zhong section (in my English-translation copy, pages 240 to 326).

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