First, I feel like I should say to a lot of people that Japanese fiction isn't for everyone, much less crime-centered fiction. The Japanese don't haveFirst, I feel like I should say to a lot of people that Japanese fiction isn't for everyone, much less crime-centered fiction. The Japanese don't have a constant need for flashbang and theatrics, and tendencially enjoy more interpersonally-driven and character-driven plots rather than a firm sequence that happens "at a timely pace". If you can't be patient and spend the time getting into the heads of the characters, don't read Japanese fiction. Period.
That said, "Out" is probably one of the most accessible works of the genre that I've ever read -- though it's certainly not for the faint of heart. The only reason it took so long to read was because of my class schedule, which suddenly took a turn for the absurd and left me with several months of no free reading time.
(view spoiler)[It's an engrossing and un-pretty story. A woman called Yayoi, tired of her husband's abuse and neglect, finally snaps and strangles her husband to death. Unsure of what to do, she turns to the only friends she has in the world -- her co-workers on the night shift in a pre-fab bento factory. Masako, the hardened and straightforward ex-loan agent, Yoshie or "Skipper", the hard-working mother and widow who takes care of her invalid mother-in-law, and the flighty Kuniko, obsessed only with designer labels, to the point of driving herself into debt even after her husband walks out on her. They cut up her husband's body and dispensed of the pieces like so much trash, letting Yayoi go back to deal with her family and someone else to take the blame for the violent crime that took her husband's life.
On top of those, there's Jumonji -- the loan-shark who used to work for the same loan company that Masako did as a collector -- and Satake ... the hostess club and illegal casino-owner who gets temporarily pinned with Yayoi's crime, and seeks revenge in his own twisted way.
Eventually, Jumonji and Masako form an alliance again, cutting up bodies and disposinbg of the pieces for local yakuza, and then things go downhill from there for our vigilantes.
As I said before, this is not a book for you if you're very squeamish -- it pushes the envelope on conventional views on sex, violence, and justice, and will probably be a lot to take in for most people, and many feminists will be torn between being up-in-arms over Satake in general and the roll-over-and-take-it attitude so prevalent in Japanese society, and cheering the women on in their run from being caught.
I think it's easy for readers, particularly female readers, to identify with the four main members of the cast, who are very real and each dreamt of an escape from their lives, a way out. It makes a person think: would you do it if a friend were in trouble? How much would it take to get you to step over that line? (hide spoiler)]
In Japan, detective fiction written for and by women is a hugely popular genre, and this is no exception. In Japan, it won the Grand Prix for Crime Fiction and was a finalist in its English translation in 2004 for the Edgar Award. And it's no surprise, as it gives us such an intimate look at the lives of these women who struggle simultaneously with domestic abuse, prostitution, poverty, climbing up the corporate ladder, beauty, weight, self-image and the blood that ends up on their hands.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
A great piece of introspective hardboiled Japanese fiction. Instead of a detective as so many writers of hardboiled fiction are apt to fall back on (lA great piece of introspective hardboiled Japanese fiction. Instead of a detective as so many writers of hardboiled fiction are apt to fall back on (likely and rightly in attempts to follow the success of Raymond Chandler et al), it tells a story centered in yakuza politics – played close enough to the chest not to give too much away, but enough that the personal experience of a middle-aged yakuza is very real to the reader. The first half is written in the third person with fairly little clues as to who the man we’re watching might be, but it doesn’t suffer any for it. It gives you the sort of feeling you get when you sit in a room and listen to the conversations other people are having – eyeing your own glass, pretending to mind your own business, but secretly clueing in on the business of others. A fly on the wall. For some I’m sure it will annoy, but because I’m secretly the sort of person who loves to do that, it felt comfortable to me.
The second half is written in the first person, the man from the beginning – called just “Tanaka” or “Brother” by his yakuza brethren. I can’t say that I enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed the first half, but that could be my affinity for the style of the beginning talking more than the actual quality of either part. There is a particularly wonderful passage in this half about the death of Tanaka’s goldfish – not for the faint of heart, but it illustrates that despite the usual failings and repetitive nature of many translations of Japanese literature, no metaphor is lost in Ashes.
I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys hardboiled fiction or is interested in looking into hardboiled fiction beyond the scope of perhaps Hammett and Chandler. It is decidedly not the detective vein so familiar to fans of the genre, but it is worth every page....more