Appropriately, I finished reading Natsuo Kirino’s Grotesque on a dark and rainy night. Kirino is a Japanese writer whose novels are part crime mysteries, part feminist social commentary. Known for writing about the criminal under belly of Japan (which is arguably more visible than in other parts of the world), Kirino convincingly takes you into the minds of the characters who are trapped on the bottom rungs of society.
Grotesque is the story of two prostitutes and how they came to be killed by the same man. One woman, Yuriko, is a self-described nymphomaniac whose beauty renders men speechless and turns women into jealous monsters. The other, Kazue, is a severe and studious woman who is employed at a well-known architecture firm. Both women attended the prestigious Q High School for Young Women as teens but they couldn’t be more different. The story is told from several perspectives: Yuriko’s sister gets a turn, as does the two murdered women and so does the alleged murderer.
Without giving too much away, it’s fair to say that none of the narratives are completely reliable. They all have too much to hide. But Kirino’s writing is as beautiful as this story is horrible and so the reader silently listens to all the lies. In this world and often in our world, women are constantly judged by their appearances and whole families are permanently sidelined due to social standing. Even the beautiful Yuriko can’t escape the social pressures when she grows old and has to sell herself at the lowest price.
Grotesque is not a book for the weak. It touches on some very taboo topics such as incest, male prostitution and sex with minors. There were parts of the novel that had me cringing but it’s not without reason. Kirino is trying to make a statement as hard as it is to hear it.
Every time I wanted to close the book and pretend none of these issues were real, I kept going back because I so fascinated by the characters. I wanted to know how they ended up dead. Grotesque lives up to its title by being that train wreck that you just can’t turn away from.
Photo credits: data.whicdn.com