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Grotesque Hardcover – March 13, 2007

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; First Edition edition (March 13, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400044944
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400044948
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6.5 x 1.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (58 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #608,834 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Readers with a taste for ambiguity and oddball characters will enjoy this twisted novel of suspense from Japanese author Kirino (Out). The Apartment Serial Murders case, which involved the brutal killings of two Tokyo prostitutes, has gripped the country, leading to the arrest of a Chinese immigrant, Zhang Zhe-zhong, for the crimes. Strangely, Zhang freely admits to murdering the first victim, Yuriko Hirata, but denies the near-identical slaying 10 months later of Kazue Sato. The events leading to the killings are related from a variety of perspectives—that of Yuriko's unnamed older sister, bitterly jealous of her sibling's good looks; of each victim; and of the accused. Unusual connections—for example, Kazue was a classmate of the older sister—cast doubt on the veracity of individual narrators. This mesmerizing tale of betrayal reveals some sobering truths about Japan's social hierarchy. 4-city author tour. (Mar.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


"[Grotesque] buoys itself along with depraved urbanity, acute social consciousness, gallows humor and a chorus of odd and damaged voices. Readers will find themselves enchanted as though by some demented orchestra. . . . Behind this social critique of Japan as appearance-obsessed dystopia lurks a series of more mystical and complex questions about the ultimate mystery of human beauty.”
The Tennessean

“Despite the story’s dark tenor, the narrative charges forward with haunting leisure, seducing with access to the sordid underbelly of traditional Japanese life. . . . Harkening to Kurosawa’s 1950s film Rashoman, each narrative presents conflicting testimony, and through this we must reconstruct the past.”
The Miami Herald

“Kirino provides an energized thrill ride as she also examines the sometimes-stifling stranglehold of Japan’s social hierarchy, especially for women.”
Seattle Post-Intelligencer

“Kazue’s journal is the novel’s chilling heart. . . . Grotesque’s clean, compassionless prose conveys muted isolation and the misery of aging sex workers with brutal efficiency.”
Time Out (Chicago)

“A harrowing look at human physiognomy, desire and competition. . . . Kirino's gifts are such that it is almost impossible to look away even as Grotesque illuminates the most depraved elements of human nature.”
The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Grotesque succeeds as a layered exploration of the human psyche, of the conflict inherent in need and desire, shame and humiliation. Character after character dissolves, until finally the haughty narrator herself becomes the very thing she hates the most, a desperate woman seeking love. . . . The brilliance of the novel lies deep in the crevasse of her obsession. In pursuing her beautiful nephew, she becomes vulnerable and, like the rest of us, will experience pain and disappointment. Allure and attraction leave what Francoise Sagan called scars on the soul. Grotesque is a powerful study of people humbled at the altar of superficial values.”
The Philadelphia Inquirer

“A vengefully mesmerizing obituary written in the voice of a woman who is often a total stranger to the women she envies. . . . The deftness with which Kirino paints the portrait of this particular Dorian Gray is a crystal-clear insight into the mind of a lunatic. Kirino turns an unerring eye toward the vicious razors of the adolescent female mind.”
The San Francisco Chronicle

Grotesque is not so much a crime novel as a brilliant, subversive character study. Kirino's real concerns are social, not criminal; her true villain is ‘the classist society so firmly embedded in Japan’ which pushes her protagonists along the road to prostitution. . . . The outrageous, unattractive, anarchic narrator is a terrific riposte to the rigidity of that society; her strong posture so at odds with the submissive role Japanese women are traditionally expected to assume - in education, in business, as wives, as daughters. . . . In its boldness and originality, [Grotesque] broadens our sense of what modern Japanese fiction can be.”
The Telegraph (London)

“With clinical precision, Kirino dissects our society’s preoccupation with beauty and how it can poison relationships; her vision of the choices available to Japanese women makes Madame Butterfly look like Pretty Woman.”

“Kirino helps us aficionados of crime fiction imagine the kind of novels James M. Cain might have written if he had been a Japanese feminist. That same greasy smog of despair that hovers over the housing tract wastelands of Mildred Pierce and Double Indemnity blankets the fringes of Kirino’s Tokyo. Like Cain, Kirino is a big believer in fate, not as an agent of deliverance but as the ultimate dead end to all possibilities, especially for women. . . . If crime noir is a genre that is distinguished by its courage in exploring the outermost suburbs of the human psyche, than Kirino — like Cain — fills up the tank, puts the pedal to the metal, and takes us readers on a long drive into the night — without safety belts. . . . Emotionally harrowing. . . . One of the things Grotesque does so elegantly is make a reader recognize how abhorrent and disturbing great beauty is. . . . In Grotesque, as in all great crime noir, under the heaping mounds of operatic passion and hyperbolic social commentary, lies the shriveled corpse of a buried truth, perhaps still shallowly bleeding.”
–Maureen Corrigan, Fresh Air (NPR)

“[Kirino is] almost forensic in her dissection of society. . . . Grotesque is bleak and lurid, violent and dispiriting, but ultimately fascinating for what it has to say.”
New York Daily News

“A raging indictment of an entire society. . . . Kirino’s description of female alienation and self-destructiveness in contemporary Japan is chilling.”
Time Out

“Engrossing. . . . A rich, complex read. Be prepared for a book utterly unlike anything we are used to in crime fiction: a long, densely written work that resembles a Russian novel more than anything else. The Hirata sisters are not-too-distant cousins of the Brothers Karamazov.” –The Independent (London)

“Kirino’s Out introduced a thrilling new genre to American readers: feminist Japanese noir. . . . The trio of antiheroines in Grotesque. . . feel similarly bound and betrayed by societal convention–but instead of using gender’s double-edged sword against their male persecutors, these women find themselves trapped under its blade.”

“Readers with a taste for ambiguity and oddball characters will enjoy this twisted novel of suspense. . . . A mesmerizing tale of betrayal.”
Publishers Weekly

“No one writes like Natsuo Kirino — few could rise to her level of intelligence, passion and honesty. I admire her tremendously.” –Mary Gaitskill

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

78 of 79 people found the following review helpful By Grammatical Rappers on April 9, 2007
Format: Hardcover
I attended a Natsuo Kirino reading and was disappointed to learn that in the American translation of this book, the ending had been altered. There is no indication of this in the book; there is no way to know this without comparing it to the Japanese edition (unfortunately, I can't read Japanese). Having the piece of information they omitted makes you better understand the actions of the protagonist at the end of the book. (There's also a puzzling double standard -- in the book, a female character engages in underage prostitution, but they cut the part where a male character does the same thing.) Knopf really dropped the ball on this and I hope that future works by this author are released uncut by a more courageous publisher.
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Reid Scher on March 30, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Readers seeking a murder mystery will be disappointed by this novel. The whodunit is almost irrelevant to the story. What Grotesque is, is a powerful and stunning exploration of the effects of a society that condemns and restricts women based upon looks and expectations. Told from four first-person perspectives, Kirino effectively portrays people crushed by the cultural and societal limits, destroyed by the resulting emptiness of their lives. While the narratives vary in quality, likely a function of translation, this is a compelling and ultimately stunning psychological novel.
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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Jack M. Walter on May 2, 2007
Format: Hardcover
What a shame that this is only the second of Kirino's novels to be translated into English. I anxiously await more, as Grotesque proved to be the most psychologically intense piece of fiction I have ever read. This story of a hate-consumed woman, her younger sister, and a classmate is riddled with the concept of human beings as monsters, and with the role of females in a society that devalues them at every turn. No short review could do this brilliant book justice. Kirino's talent is so huge it is scary. One of the best of 2007, without a doubt.
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Format: Hardcover
The Japanese describe their own culture by saying, "The nail that sticks up gets hammered down," and that aphorism forms the underpinning of this consummately Japanese novel. The four speakers of the novel, three of them women and one of them a foreign-born man, are all "nails" that "stick up" in Tokyo. They need to be recognized for who they are, but they have failed to find even minimal success in the culture in which they live and work. For the women, there's an additional barrier to personal happiness--"Women are merely commodities for men to possess." To be successful in this world, a woman needs to be cooperative and submissive.

Two of the "nails" trying to avoid being "hammered down" in this odd but fascinating novel are prostitutes. Another is the pathologically jealous older sister of one of the prostitutes, and one is an illegal Chinese national who murdered one or both of the prostitutes--not the typical cast of characters for a novel written by a Japanese author and published for an English-speaking audience. Revealing aspects of Japanese society usually kept hidden, the novel is told by characters who feel they have little to lose, and it is dark, often raw, and sometimes sexually explicit.

The four characters tell their own stories, leading up to the murders of the two prostitutes and their immediate aftermath--the trial of the murderer. An unnamed speaker, the studious sister of "diabolically beautiful" prostitute Yuriko Hirata, describes her own efforts to succeed in school. Her inability to form friendships, her pathological hatred for her sister, and her resentment of students whose success at the school is far greater than her own, make her a frustrating and unlikable main character.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By yulia steshenko on April 1, 2007
Format: Hardcover
(3.75) The other reviews can reveal what this book is about. What I wanted to share is the extreme responses this book incited in my boyfriend and me. He alternately found himself loving the narrator, Yuriko's sister, for her brutal honesty and hating her for her malice and psychological bullying of Kazue. Meanwhile, I found myself rooting the narrator on as she spoke the cruel truth about the pitiful hopelessness of Kazue's meritocratic dreams, but a moment later I wondered if that made me a bully myself or as bitter and heartless as the narrator. Perhaps it reminded me too much of what I had seen growing up to shock me.

Then, there was the simultaneous hilarity and pain of Kazue's cluelessness. Was she a tragic figure, blind, or both? I admired Kirino for inspiring me to feel so much for her characters, even for Yuriko, who is certainly not the ditsy airhead her older sister wants us to believe she is (I also found it hard to believ she was as ghastly as she considered herself in her 30s: is it just because women past 25 in Japan are regarded as Christmas cake, as a friend from Japan says?).

My attention was quite strained by Zhang's tale of Chinese hardship (it seemed the wrong book to educate the reader about how difficult it is for immigrants in Japan), but I immediately forgave Kirino when Yuriko's older sister admitted herself Zhang's account was tedious and could be skipped (I'd recommend others to skim it as well).

Again, my patience was tested by Kazue's journal: I just kept on thinking, aren't you ready to die yet? But I see this was intentional on Kirino's part, to make the reader struggle between our (or my) wanting Kazue to just give up on life and our feeling ashamed for our coldness and complicity in her bullying.
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