Rachel's Reviews > Out

Out by Natsuo Kirino
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really liked it
bookshelves: japan, mysteries-with-humor, bechdel-passers

When I caught the words “hard-boiled” on this book’s back cover before reading it, can’t lie: I was less than enthused. During my embarrassingly long mystery-novel obsession, I’ve pinpointed my favorite kind quite precisely – cerebral social comedies, preferably written by British women between 1915 and ~1965, with levels of gore not to exceed your occasional poisoned crumpet.

Out is not that. Out is not even on the same planet as that, and yet it grabbed me by the shoulders and shook, hard, until I tore through it all. And liked it.

Given that we find nine X chromosomes distributed among its five main characters, this isn’t your typical fedoraed American noir either. I mean, this book passes the Bechdel Test, plants a grubby sneaker on the throat of patriarchy, twirls its machete, then comes back for more. It skewers gender inequity, and turns its blades on Japanese ageism and racism for good measure.

Like other hard-boiled crime books, this one is set in all that stuff seething on the edges of a stultifying society. But unlike a lot of those rye-swilling, laconic loner detectives, the decent of these characters into the mire is depicted in agonizingly deep, multi-perspective detail. In fact, most of the mysteriousness of this novel is psychological: will they buy into or opt out of the grim social structures around them? How can they? And what in the hell will their tortured minds lead them to do next?

Right. And about that torture: the violence in this book does tend toward the ridiculously over-the-top, nightmare-making kind. Not my usual cup of (view spoiler) tea, let me tell you. What often bugs me about noir-mystery gore, though, is that, rather than coming off as symptomatic of a rotten society, it just seems kind of gratuitous. But here, the carnage is the story. It’s part of a seamless whole and full of significant, meaty symbolism (oh, how very meaty it is.). Entertaining? Ugh. Not so much.

My biggest bento-box beef with the book was that the integration of the multiple perspectives was occasionally a bit clunky, especially when Kirino hit rewind and replayed the same scene from another point of view. But a very minor beef, this one.

I will be reading more Kirino, for sure. This book is gray, gritty, mad, raw and suffused with the kind of black humor that’ll turn your smile right upside-down. And maybe, with its socially aware black comedy and its unabashedly female perspective, it might inhabit the same planet as my other beloved mysteries after all.

They probably should not have tea with each other, though. I don't want to clean up the mess.
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Reading Progress

January 8, 2013 – Shelved
July 22, 2013 – Started Reading
July 24, 2013 – Shelved as: japan
July 24, 2013 – Finished Reading
August 11, 2013 – Shelved as: mysteries-with-humor
July 29, 2014 – Shelved as: bechdel-passers

Comments Showing 1-6 of 6 (6 new)

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Lise Petrauskas Woohoo! I'm excited to get to this! I'm with you and generally like the cerebral and less violent end of the genre. Wait. Does liking Ruth Rendell count ?

Rachel Lise wrote: "Woohoo! I'm excited to get to this! I'm with you and generally like the cerebral and less violent end of the genre. Wait. Does liking Ruth Rendell count ?"

Oh, Ruth Rendell is definitely in that mold!

Lise Petrauskas Yay! Your review is making me more excited to read this, especially since I think we have the same taste in murder mysteries.

I am going to read this soon! Hopefully this week!

Rachel So cool! But I don't want to have led you astray -- the surface differences between this book and the poisoned-crumpet genre are huge, while figuring out any similarities took me a bunch of long, hard thinks. I'm so curious to know how this goes for you, though. Keep me posted!

Lise Petrauskas I will! I don't mind a little "hard-boiled" or "sick and twisted" in my murder mysteries every once in awhile! Ruth Rendell goes there with some of her odder books, especially the ones that are not Inspector Wexford books.

My favorite British mystery writers are Christie (Miss Marple), Dorothy Sayers, Ngaio Marsh, P.D. James, Ruth Rendell, Colin Dexter, and Ian Rankin more or less in that order.

Rachel Ooo, jolly good list. My favorites are Sayers, Sayers, Sayers, Christie (at least the stuff predating her anti-communist fixation and those addled '60s & '70s plots), MM Kaye and Patricia Wentworth. I've had Rendell, Marsh, James and Allingham phases in the past, but I've never tried Dexter or Rankin. Hmmm. Library time!

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