Grotesque by Natsuo Kirino

by Kristopher Cook
Grotesque by Natsuo Kirino - Book Review - Kristopher Cook

Dark and disturbing is the frame often used by Japanese Crime-writer Natsuo Kirino and Grotesque is no exception. Unfortunately, this grittiness isn’t enough to carry the book far.

No matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t connect with this book.

The story was incredibly slow-paced, which is something I often relish in thrillers, but it felt plodding and non-descript.

For a nymphomaniac like myself, I suppose there could be no job more suitable than prostitution.
Natsuo Kirino, Grotesque

New to Kirino’s books is translator Rebecca Copeland. I’m not saying it’s her fault; sometimes languages just happen to fall this way, but it could be a part of why the dialogue feels so wooden.

Not that I think she’s there to re-edit the whole bloody book.

Maybe this is partly my fault. Going into this, I expected another grungy, hard-hitting thriller with plenty of gore, but all were absent. Although, with a name like Grotesque, you can see how I was fooled.

Characters were bland and unemotional. I know that’s the point of the main narrator, but it doesn’t give it a clear pass to be boring. Even her sister Yuriko’s journal, which makes a full appearance in part three, is dull and uninspiring.

As with Out, there’s undoubtedly an undertone of a struggle, but I can’t decipher (or care enough) to decide if it’s a gender struggle against the men controlling them, or a societal class issue.

Either way, this appears to be a theme running through Kirino’s work.

Another negative of Grotesque is the sheer size of the chapters/chunks of writing. Split into parts, some range into the hundred-page mark, making them difficult to digest in a single reading.

Grotesque does strike back against the narrative that we, in the western world, tend to place on far-reaching Asian countries, especially Japan.

For a girl, appearance can be a powerful form of oppression. No matter how intelligent a girl may be, no matter her many talents, these attributes are not easily discerned. Brains and talent will never stand up against a girl who is clearly physically attractive.

Natsuo Kirino, Grotesque

Gone are the giggling schoolgirls in high socks, manga comic sellers, and cherry blossom trees, instead replaced by corner-moping prostitutes, abusive men and gritty horror.

It creates a world unlike that the western eye is used to observing in these shores.

The book is less a thriller and more of a character study; the effects that abuse and manipulation can have on one woman and her sister. The jealousy that passes between them, a simmering hatred that’s always on the brink of breaking over, up until the point Yuriko and her friend Kazue are killed, one year apart.

Tension is built around these gruesome murders, in my opinion poorly, along with who’ll take care of Yuriko’s blind son.

Closing Thoughts

In closing, Grotesque is a book I was looking forward to reading, but unfortunately, it fell completely flat.

As I’ve mentioned, the characters, the plot and the narrative were lacklustre, the dialogue is stilted, and the conclusion underwhelming.

If you want a Japanese crime-thriller that delivers, try either Penance by Kanae Minato or Natsuo Kirino’s first translated novel, Out.

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