July 21, 2007

Books: Grotesque by Natsuo Kirino

Following the success of Out, the latest book by prize-winning crime novelist Natsuo Kirino to be translated into English is Grotesque. The story centres around the murder of two prostitutes in Tokyo – Yuriko, who worked in the trade since her teens, and Kazue, who had held down an office job by day, but moonlighted on the streets at night. The novel is not really a ‘whodunit’, but more a ‘howdiditallhappen’.
The story is told by an unnamed narrator, who is the bitter older sister of Yuriko and ex-classmate of Kazue. With her narrative interspersed with diary entries of both victims, the reader gets to see the story from different angles as well as an insight into the main characters’ minds. We see the background to the main characters and their striving for success while at an exclusive all-girls school in Tokyo, and then, some twenty or so years later, we see how the lives of the women developed. Kirino doesn’t just tell a good crime story – she also offers some social comment in her novels (in this book the ultra-competitive world of the Japanese school system comes under attack) as well as addressing some of the main issues of modern life, such as the felling of the need for success and acceptance in society .

One thing that bugged me about the book, however, was the poor editing in the translation. On a couple of occasions there are examples of poor English (just when do way say ‘take a leave’ to refer to time off work?), and there are also hints that the translator had run out of ideas for translating a certain phrase and so instead resorts to repetition (‘horn in on’ someone’s business crops up several times in short succession, which was noticeable since it’s not that common a phrase). However, this is not to take away from what is a compelling story. As you might imagine from the title, it doesn’t make for pleasant reading ~
it’s not full of violence, but it is incredibly disturbing to see how the main characters head towards their tragic fate.

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