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Out is the first of Japanese crime writer Natsuo Kirino's works to be translated into English. It's a gripping tale of a young mother working the night shift at a boxed lunch factory, who teams up with three coworkers to conceal the murder of her good-for-nothing husband. They quickly discover that this killing is merely the beginning of their troubles as their gruesome cover-up takes them into the violent underbelly of Japanese society. As the women try to outwit the police and a mysterious stranger bent on revenge, what follows is as much a character study of disaffected Japanese women as a knuckle wrenching thriller.

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See how many daggers our experts gave Out. Dagger ratings are from 0 to 5, with 5 daggers being the best.

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Rita Feutl
Journalist and Novelist
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Melissa Jacques
Literature Instructor
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Out is an incredibly atmospheric book. I think what makes it atmospheric is the bitterness that seeps out of the four central characters. One of the things that makes Masako, the protagonist, so interesting is that she decides to have this experience. It's not something that most of us would choose, but Masako decides to help her friend hide a murder. She's the only one of the four motivated by a moral conviction, the others are motivated by money, or in Kuniko's case, forced cooperation.

I don't see this as being a feminist novel. It's almost anti-feminist in that the women are merely cleaning up, and the best way they can do that because they're not big women is to cut up the corpses and put it in plastic bags. Double-bagged even. It was the men who committed the really violent, brutal murders in the rest of the book. The only way in which I could interpret this as a feminist work or a 'feminist revenge novel' is that from what I understand of Japanese society, women are not portrayed as action-takers. People the world over have been shocked by the violence of the women in this book (it has been turned into a play and movie in Japan, and is set to get screen treatment in the US soon), but it's not feminist violence just because women perpetrate it.

The novel seems to suggest that the modern Japanese family is completely dysfunctional. There is a daughter who steals her mother's last yen and then dumps her illegitimate son on her. In another family the son hasn't spoke a single word to his mother for at least a year, except to fink her out, in another family the wife murders the husband, and the last of the four women has no family.

I opted to go all out and give this book a perfect 5. It kept me reading, the writing is wonderful. I could smell, taste, and feel it. When I wasn't reading it I was wondering how the characters were getting on, as if they had a life after I'd closed the book. I tried to read it before bed and I couldn't because when I put it down and tried to go to sleep it just clung at me. I ended up having to read it in bright daylight.

Other reviews by Rita Feutl:
Dark Places

 

I found this book foreboding and claustrophobic from the very opening scene. There is a tension between the almost gothic kind of foreboding and the realism of the novel. I found the writing to be absolutely breathtaking - there were moments when I was completely immersed in what was happening.

The central character, Masako, is a strong, powerful, business-like woman. She's pragmatic and realistic, and because she's a woman she couldn't move beyond a certain level at the credit union, her last job before the factory. But she can make it in the underworld. The Yakuza thug who partners up with her recognizes her and wants to work with her. She's a maverick or renegade, but in a very sedate, invisible way. I think that's part of Kirino's point. Kirino makes Masako visible to us all.

I thought the relationship between Masako and Kazuo, the Brazilian, to be very interesting. We meet Kazuo when he attempts to sexually assault Masako, and by the end they have become close, and feel a real kinship. It's interesting how Kirino played with the violation and subsequent veneration of Masako by Kazuo.

The title of the book is very well-chosen. Everyone in the book is trapped, and everyone wants a way out. Part of the mystery is if they will get out - there's no mystery about who killed who, why, how it happened. The thing to be resolved is how these people are going to esape to a better life.