The Book Club:
“At the end of May I was feeling sort of “meh” about the Goodreads book clubs I’m part of. No offence meant to them at all! I like them. But they’re just so BIG that the books I’m particularly interested in don’t often (read: ever?) get picked and there doesn’t feel like there’s enough incentive to take part sometimes. I wanted something that was smaller so, even if I’m not super jazzed about every single book, I feel motivated to read each one because I knew the other member(s) of the book club are reading too and because of the discussion that will ensue.
SO, of course, I voice messaged Claire about it and we decided on a book within the hour!
How it works is that one of us will pick the book one month and the other will pick the book for the next month.”
This month was Nikki’s choice: Out (アウト) by Natsuo Kirino.
Book: Out (アウト) by Natsuo Kirino
Publisher: Vintage, 2004 (first published 1997)
Nikki’s Thoughts & Rating:
*Spoilers are indicated
like this. Any struck-through text from this point on is a spoiler.
This was such a fun read! There were so many more threads involved than I expected and I loved seeing how they knotted together then watching it all unravel. There were unexpected twists when you thought you knew exactly what was going to happen, but didn’t. And there were turns when exactly what you feared and thought wouldn’t be allowed to happen (because if it did, how could there be so many pages left!!??) happened anyway.
The story is told in a multiple split narrative (all in third person if I remember correctly) and this works really well for the story. Sometimes people’s perspectives overlap a little bit chronologically but I didn’t find it disorienting at all.
I love the cultural insight into Japan. I love the feminist overtones. It goes deeper than what we usually witness from other famous (but male) Japanese writers by going against the “submissive Japanese women” stereotype and I’m all for subverting crappy gender stereotypes. And, most of all, I love all the female interactions. But especially the lady friendship between Masako and Yoshie. How can you not love that? I don’t know. I love them. Great duo. It’s funny because I never really got the sense the any of the characters were terribly close to each other before everything went down–just that Masako is pretty protective of Yayoi–but Masako and Yoshie have such a great respect for each other and I feel like their friendship grew over the course of the ordeal they go through.
However, for me, it isn’t perfect. I suspect my issues could be due to cultural misunderstanding…but I really don’t think so and here is why. The social commentary isn’t subtle. At all. And that’s what makes the ‘Stockholm syndrome’-esque episode that suddenly strikes strong-willed Masako seem so out of character and, frankly, it almost felt like it pandered to a weird problematic ideas about women and rape and so on. I did not like that. At all. It feels like she comes to her senses in the very very very end (like last paragraph of last page or something), but it made me uncomfortable to read. I wondered if that was a bit of pandering so it could be published in what seems like a society which can sometimes be pretty restrictive and very patriarchal.
Sadly, I also felt like the major problem had petered out a little and was maybe swept aside prematurely and the second obstacle (which would become the main climax) felt a little like a derail… But it was still interesting.
Be aware that there is a lot of blood and gore and sexual content. Some of it is problematic. That said, I would definitely recommend this book.
rating: ★★★★☆ (4.5 stars)
Nikki’s favourite line(s):
I’m half Japanese,’ he wanted to shout. ‘I’m a Japanese citizen.’ But to these people, anyone who didn’t share their facial features, who didn’t speak their language, just wasn’t one of them. In the end, he decided the Japanese as a whole tended to judge most things by their appearance; and the idea of fellowship, which his mother had taken for granted and which involved going beyond appearances, was something few people here were actually willing to follow up on. The day he realised that his face and physique would forever consign him to the status of a gaijin, Kazuo gave up on Japan.
When stones lying warm in the sun were turned over, they exposed the cold, damp earth underneath; and that was where Masako had burrowed deep. There was no trace of warmth in this dark earth, yet for a bug curled up tight in it, it was a peaceful and familiar world.
So when I first got my hands on this, and also when Nikki told me what she had chosen, I was very confused and to be frank, a little bit irked. I’m not a huge fan of translated works, I had to read a ton of it during my IB degree so I’ve since avoided it. However, because Nikki bought The Long Song even though she has since gone on to dislike it, I bought it anyway. Warning, this book has gratuitous details of violence, sexual assault and rape, so massive trigger warnings.
Now, on to the book! It’s amazing. I give Nikki kudos for choosing an amazing novel. The best part of this are the characters, Masako is a cold, callous amazing person who is the product of years of apathy and disregard. She’s amazing, and not because she’s terrifying
and does a ton of semi-bad stuff, but because she’s honest and blunt and resourceful. It felt good to read a book with people that are so fundamentally flawed and real and raw. Additionally, it raises a number of quandaries. I found myself questioning my notions of good and bad in this book, because everyone does things that are just so wrong but they do it with pure ignorance and yet purpose in their hearts. I don’t know if it is because the book is a translation, but everything is blunt. There isn’t the crazy fluffy writing you’d read in a Western thriller, it’s blunt and dirty and enthralling.
The only part that confused me was the ending, I both don’t like and yet do like it? Masako goes through some serious stuff and yet she cleaves to her attacker, she develops a sort of connection and that makes no darn sense.
Overall, I’d give this 4 hearts out of 5, and can I just say I’m surprised Nikki’s review is so short? But it’s amazing, yes, as usual.
Claire’s Favourite Line:
“You know,” she murmured, “we’re all heading straight to hell.”
“Yes,” said Masako, giving her a bleak look. “It’s like riding downhill with no brakes.”
“You mean, there’s no way to stop?”
“No, you stop all right – when you crash.”
Have you read this book yet?
If you have, what did you think? If you haven’t, do you want to?
September’s Book Club choice is Claire’s and she chose…
Claire’s Update (Tuesday, Septeber 1st, 2015): NOPE, NOPE, NOPE. I can’t find the book at the library and after I thought about it, this doesn’t seem like the type of book that Nikki might fully enjoy and after what I put her through in The Long Song, I have to make a good choice! So the new and improved Bitches With Books Book Club September 2015 pick is…