Book Review: OUT by Natsuo Kirino

In recent times I have become quite addicted to thrillers and mysteries. From Jurassic Park, Lost World, Gone Girl, The Girl on the Train to the most recent acquisition – Out by Natsuo Kirino.

from dolcebelleza.net

Before I start talking about the book itself, did you know that there is a difference between mystery, thrillers and suspense? I have almost always equated them with each other in day to day conversation. Like, I would say, “Oh, let’s go and watch the new thriller.” Or “I really loved this mystery novel.” It had never occurred that they are actually different genres – overlapping at times – but different.

During a conversation with my movie buff friend, I came to know the basic difference. Which is in a mystery novel you do not know what happens next – you go along with the protagonist, maybe a detective or the police, to piece together clues and come to the solution along with everyone else. Think Nancy Drew or Famous Fives from your childhood. Or the Girl with a Dragon Tattoo.

A thriller is something which thrills. Duh! But more seriously, it is a situation where the reader will know who has committed a crime but the chase is what matters. In such cases you are usually rooting for the good guys, who can be in danger. But you also get a point of view from the culprit. Something like a good ol’ Agatha Christie novel.

Now, a suspense novel is something I often confuse with a thriller. A suspense is when you know something is about to happen – like a murderer waiting in the shadows, or a dinosaur about to attack, but the victim or protagonist has no clue. And you read on to see what happens in between, how it happens etc. Basically you know the end, but you read because the thrill of how or when keeps you going.

These are obviously not water-tight categorizations. And most often than not, they overlap. For example, the book I finished today, Out, is a bit of suspense and a bit of mystery.

The reason I picked up Out is quite silly. A friend posted about wanting to read a Murakami novel on Facebook. Someone suggested she should try Banana Yoshimoto as well. So I looked up Yoshimoto. And then in related searches the name of Natsuo Kirino came up. While I do have a copy of Banan Yoshimoto’s popular book ‘ Kitchen’, ‘Out’ struck me as more engrossing because of the plot.

Four friends, middle aged women working the night shift in a boxed lunch factory in Japan, have a dull life. But when one of them lashes back at her husband – and goes slightly overboard by killing her, she has no one to turn to but her friends from the factory. The friends hatch out a plan to ‘get rid of the body’ and thus starts the gruesome body-chopping scene. By the first hundred pages the author has managed to reel you in with this bit of information. But when the police start to piece together some puzzles, it looks like they might just get caught.

But you know you will root for the protagonist, and then the author makes you believe that they have every chance to escape. Enter, a Japanese-Brazilian co-worker who sexually attacks one of the friends, a loan shark agent who wants to make more money and a bar owner with a dark past. Saying any more would give away bits and pieces of the book, so I shall just tell you that it was engrossing to the point of red-eyed reading at 3 in the morning.

What did I like about the book? It certainly wasn’t the small type or the long chapters. It didn’t even end a chapter hanging on to something – the way Michael Crichton or R L Stine always does. But it does painfully paint each character, slowly. So that the gray shades come out on each. With every twist in the tale, I kept on trying to predict what would happen next (I didn’t succeed), ‘could X or Y or Z be trapped because this happens?’, ‘Maybe the police will walk in now and think A or B or C did it’, or ‘Oh God. This would be so perfect and they could just get away scot-free!’. In that way the book keeps you involved.

Japanese thriller author, Natsuo Kirino

Moreover, the cover art looked gruesome in a simple way. But what also disturbed me about this book and a lot of the other thrillers/ suspenses I have been reading is that they speak about the married life – be it the husband or the wife. And most often than not, it is an unhappy married life that sows the seeds of the crime that is to be committed soon. Ah well. If that is the trend in the genre, I will read up till I am done.

Going back to my earlier conversation about different genres, this book is a mix of two. It starts with a murder and you know who has committed it at the very onset. But you read on to see what happens to them. The suspense is whether they get away with it or not. And also, how does a murder change a person from within.

All in all I gave it an ‘Almost 5 star’ for the sheer energy with which it got me hooked. Satisfied.

Natsuo Kirino

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