Book Club Questions: Out by Natsuo Kirino (tr. Stephen Snyder)

Natsuo Kirino’s novel tells a story of random violence in the staid Tokyo suburbs, as a young mother who works a night shift making boxed lunches brutally strangles her deadbeat husband and then seeks the help of her co-workers to dispose of the body and cover up her crime.

The ringleader of this cover-up, Masako Katori, emerges as the emotional heart of Out and as one of the shrewdest, most clear-eyed creations in recent fiction. Masako’s own search for a way out of the straitjacket of a dead-end life leads her, too, to take drastic action.

The complex yet riveting narrative seamlessly combines a convincing glimpse into the grimy world of Japan’s yakuza with a brilliant portrayal of the psychology of a violent crime and the ensuing game of cat-and-mouse between seasoned detectives and a group of determined but inexperienced criminals. Kirino has mastered a Thelma and Louise kind of graveyard humor that illuminates her stunning evocation of the pressures and prejudices that drive women to extreme deeds and the friendship that bolsters them in the aftermath.

My friend and I definitely found this book an interesting read; its subject matter is grim and brutal, held together by the attention-grabbing puzzle that is Masako Katori. Masako’s rise from the cocoon of her dead-end middle-aged existence while she takes control following her coworker’s spousal murder is a journey laced with fascination and dread for the reader. It’s a dark read, and not for everyone – but if detailed descriptions of dismemberment or cat-and-mouse games with vicious killers don’t faze you, then this might be the book you’ve been looking for. I must warn that the ending perplexed my friend and I in its sudden departure from the narrative trajectory of the rest of the story – but aside from that, we enjoyed this book a great deal.

Discussion questions below the cut!

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