Four women, co-workers on the night shift at a box lunch factory on the outskirts of Tokyo, form an unlikely friendship based on their mutual desperation -a dissatisfaction with their inattentive, unresponsive husbands and disaffected children, strained economic situations and emotional isolation. When Yayoi Yamamoto, a young wife and mother kills her abusive, philandering spouse, the four come together voluntarily to perform a most grisly act. They dismember the body to facilitate disposal. Although of disparate ages and characters, the women become quite bound to one another through an increasing web of conspiracy, self-interest and suspicion. A series of indiscretions and careless mistakes expose them all to unforeseeable dangers.
"Out" is so much more than a psychological thriller or a formulaic crime novel. This is fiction that surpasses genre. Although plot driven, much of the story is dependent on character development and change. The characters are portrayed so vividly, even the minor ones, that the reader cannot help but form a strong attachment to them. It really does not matter, ultimately, if the connection is positive or not - one still looks forward to following the various personages forward to their individual destinies. Masako Katori, shrewd and extremely intelligent, is the definite leader among the women and an absolutely fascinating figure. Although she has perfected a cold, detached veneer with which she presents herself to the world, inside she is despondent and in turmoil. Increasingly alone and alienated from her husband and teenage son, she longs for "freedom." "It had started with something in her. Her hopelessness and a longing for freedom had brought her to this point." Masako is looking for a way "out" of her claustrophobic life.
This is definitely a novel noir, with a substantial dose of S&M thrown into the mix. obviously not for the faint of heart. I became absorbed in the story almost instantly, only to have my interest wane after the murder is committed. My attention span was at fault here, not the author's writing. Fortunately I stayed with it because the second half of the novel is even better than the first, I think - really riveting! This is some of the best and most unusual writing I have encountered in some time. It is also very disturbing. Since I do not speak Japanese I can only judge by the translation, and for me the stark, gritty prose really accentuates the building tension in the narrative and the oppressiveness of the environment. I found myself thinking about "Out" long after I had turned the last page.
Ms. Natsuo provides a rare glimpse into the bleak subculture of many lower middle class Japanese workers who live on the margins of society, worlds away from the lights and glitter of Tokyo's Ginza district. Readers also gain access to the grim Japanese underworld. I should note that there is wonderful dark humor throughout to alleviate the oppressive quality of the storyline.
Although Natsuo Kirino is considered one of the best mystery writers in Japan, multiple award-winning novel "Out" is Ms. Kirino's first book to be published in English. It has also been made into a Japanese motion picture.