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Grotesque Paperback – February 12, 2008

3.5 out of 5 stars 73 customer reviews

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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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

“Vengefully mesmerizing. . . . Kirino turns an unerring eye toward the vicious razors of the adolescent female mind.”
San Francisco Chronicle
 
“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. . . . Emotionally harrowing.”
—Maureen Corrigan, Fresh Air (NPR)
 
“A layered exploration of the human psyche, of the conflict inherent in need and desire, shame and humiliation. . . . A powerful study of people humbled at the altar of superficial values.”
The Philadelphia Inquirer
 
“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
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 544 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (February 12, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400096596
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400096596
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.9 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (73 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #678,367 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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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
Although Natsuo Kirino has published sixteen books in Japan, GROTESQUE is only her second to be translated into English, following her successful first entry, OUT. Ms. Kirino's work is typically categorized as mystery novels, a genre of which I am neither a fan nor a reader. However, I happily make an exception in Ms. Kirino's case, having earlier stumbled across OUT while looking for English language books in China. Her work tacks hard toward exploration of human (especially female) psyches within the rigid cultural framework that is Japan. As a result, her two books stand as critiques of Japanese society and culture, set within a fictional framework and centered on acts of homicidal violence either conducted by women in OUT, or directed at women in GROTESQUE.

At its core, GROTESQUE is a simple tale of the brutal murders of two middle-aged prostitutes, occurring slightly less than a year apart, and the man accused of killing them both. However, rather than spend most of her 467 pages on the crime or its investigation (Zhang, the accused, freely admits to murdering Yuriko), Ms. Kirino creates a complex web of characters while recounting the school-age experiences of both victims as seen through one of the victim's sisters and as recounted by journals kept by both dead women. The story passes back and forth from the present (the killer's trial) to the victims' high school days in the high pressure and high conformist Japanese school system, while a parallel thread tracks the killler's passage from poor farm villager in China to Chinese immigrant laborer in Tokyo.

The unifying character in GROTESQUE is Ms. Hirata, unattractive older sister to the almost preternaturally beautiful Yuriko Hirata.
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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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