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Out by Natsuo Kirino

October 2, 2008

This novel was recommended to me by an online friend who blogs using the pseudonym Unfit Mother.  “Out” can be categorized in the genre of noir, or black cinema, because it is strange, erotic, ambivalent and cruel.  The characters are motivated by greed, sex and jealousy.  There are crime scenes throughout the book, with police investigations and private investigations and the obligatory rain and dark parking lots.  There are scenes at hostess clubs, abandoned factories, stairwells and gambling holes-in-the-wall.  Tokyo is most definitely portrayed as a labyrinth of sin and moral corruption.  And yet, I got swept up in it and identified wells of rage (against the machine that oppresses the human spirit) alongside wells of compassion (for Masako, for Kazuo, for Yayoi) within myself.  I didn’t know what noir meant when I read the novel.  That’s a term that I looked up later.  My coffee pot is called Café Noir because it is black (and coffee is black), so I could guess that much.

Wikipedia’s film noir entry states:

Film noir is often described as essentially pessimistic. The noir stories that are regarded as most characteristic tell of people trapped in unwanted situations (which, in general, they did not cause but are responsible for exacerbating), striving against random, uncaring fate, and frequently doomed. The movies are seen as depicting a world that is inherently corrupt.

I don’t consider this novel a comedy, but maybe some people do. The way the women claw their way “out” of the restraints of the patriarchy is not comedic to me.  The gender-bound roles and expectations are actually really sad.  I kept thinking of my host mother who lives with a son who hasn’t spoken in years (related to his depression) and a husband who travels the world with fellow businessmen, sleeps with prostitutes and brings home photos of himself in front of tourist attractions.  She smokes cigarettes under the kitchen exhaust hood, carefully hiding that habit from everyone in her family.  But as a guest in their home, I once walked up the stairs from my room to the second floor and, through the partially open sliding door, watched her take a long, desperate drag on the cigarette.  My heart was beating wildly and I tip-toed back downstairs without letting her know I had seen that.  I wonder what other secrets she has.

This novel is really good.  It is excellent.  I didn’t like the bleak ending (because I am quixotic I don’t like when characters are doomed), and I sobbed helplessly through the rape scenes that were unlike anything I had ever read.  I’ve seen horrible crimes like rape and murder in movies, but reading them is a completely different sensory experience.  A bleak ending is standard for the noir genre, so I have accepted it for what it is.  I just joined goodreads.com and gave this book 5 stars (and I would give it the prize for the Most Fucked Up Book I Have Ever Read, if there were such a prize).  If you want to, you can see this and others on my virtual bookshelves.

Study questions for “Out” are here.

Many more reviews of “Out” are here (but don’t ruin the novel for yourself by reading all the spoilers).

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7 Comments
  1. October 2, 2008 10:08 pm

    Wow, this sounds like a really intense book. I’m not sure I could read the rape scenes. I’m too sensitive sometimes, and these things can haunt me for weeks. That whole line between fiction and reality seems blurry to me sometimes!

  2. October 3, 2008 1:29 pm

    Yes, I am sensitive too and the lines get blurred when I can’t get through my day because of a novel I am reading. It is intense, but it has been about 3 weeks since I read it and I am okay!

  3. October 4, 2008 12:35 am

    That does sound intense. Interesting, certainly, but like Deb, I’m not sure how I would cope with scenes of brutality. Thanks for sharing your reaction to the book.

  4. October 4, 2008 3:33 pm

    Amy, certainly. Thank you for taking the time to consider my reaction to “Out.” Now I am reading “A Clockwork Orange.” Anthony Burgess says in the 1986 introduction, “If he can only perform good or perform evil, then he is a clockwork orange—meaning that he has the appearance of an organism lovely with colour and juice but is in fact only a clockwork toy to be wound up by God or the Devil or (since this is increasingly replacing both) the Almighty State. It is as inhuman to be totally good as it is to be totally evil. The important thing is moral choice.” This is something I like thinking about, so that’s why I choose intense books to compensate for whatever violence is lacking in my real life.

  5. October 4, 2008 5:52 pm

    I remember watching Clockwork Orange a lot when I was a teen. I remember it being a very strange movie. Like the ‘milk bars’. But it does make you think a lot.

    I don’t know if I could read the Out book. I tend to stay in a dark place if I go there too often and it takes a lot of work to pull myself out of the funk. It sounds intense for sure. You’re a brave soul to go there. And your desire to feel and ponder is admirable.

  6. October 4, 2008 5:58 pm

    Great review! I still heart the book and am interested in her new work, “Real World”. I also read, “Grotesque” but did not enjoy it as much as “Out”.

  7. October 5, 2008 9:19 pm

    Chris, I’ve only seen the movie A Clockwork Orange once. I remember the milk bars. It’s really interesting and time consuming to read. Burgess made up a lot of words, so I have to decode them as I am reading. Good stuff.

    Unfit Mother, thanks again for the recommendation! It was a risky book for Kirino to write, and a risky book to recommend to a friend.

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