The After-Word: Grotesque

Hello Good Readers!

I was going to do three posts this month. But then I read Grotesque by Natsuo Kirino. I won’t lie – this one got to me. It made it hard to read anything else, both because it was so so good and because it was so so sad. For as much as I read, it’s actually pretty rare for a book to really affect me in the way that Grotesque did. In fact, I can only think of a few off the top of my head. Grotesque sticks with you; it stuck with me for weeks after I finished. Grotesque is a profoundly sad story filled with broken characters and the worst of human ugliness. It is unrelenting in its fatalism, ferocious in its criticism of male dominated society and classism, and it doesn’t shy away from showing humanity at its lowest. (In fact, the English translation had some sections removed because of this which I only just now found out about and am now very angry about – don’t censor my shit publishers!)

Kirino’s fiction is often labeled as “feminist noir” and, having just read this one book, it’s not hard to see why. While the book is very critical of classism and elitism in Japanese society, it gives focus to how these rigid systems affect women. All but one of the main characters are women and, though there is a sizable section given to the ‘confession’ of a male character, it’s obviously filled with lies and it’s used more as a device for the women to comment on. It’s obvious that Kirino has a particular concern for how women live within the rules of this society – and how those rules are impossible and can, and do, lead to broken lives – and how they are left out regardless of their achievements. And while I know our readers are all beautiful and woke as fuck, for anyone out there rolling their eyes at “yet another piece of SJW propaganda,” know that the story itself is a truly tense work of crime fiction. But again, I know all of you are above such thinking. Cus you’re not dumb.

The novel is split into 8 sections, many of which are narrated by an unnamed character who is – to put it diplomatically – not very nice. She is angry and cruel; she hates practically everyone she meets, or sees, or thinks about; and, as she puts it, she cultivates malice as a weapon. The first thing we learn about her is that whenever she meets someone she thinks about what their babies would look like. She doesn’t do this just for people she’s attracted to, but for any man. She’s obsessed with genetics and particularly the way genes are passed from parents to children. Her assessments are usually…not good.

We find out that she has a complex due to her little sister Yuriko being beautiful. But, according to our narrator, it’s not a normal kind of beautiful; she’s so beautiful that the narrator decides she has to be a monster. Their mother and father’s genes can’t have made Yuriko, she decides, because they are very plain so therefore Yuriko must be a mutation. She views her sister and her sister’s beauty (as well as the effect that beauty has on everyone around them) with cold detachment. At least that’s what she wants us to think. We get a few peeks behind the narrator’s façade throughout her story, hints that she isn’t as emotionally dead as she wants us to think and as she would like to be.

When the book begins, the narrator is facing a certain dubious fame due to her connection to two murders that happened one year apart. The victims were prostitutes; one was a girl she went to school with, and the other was her sister. The killer was caught and currently on trial and the narrator has been going to the hearings. She hates the way this draws attention to her because it means that she’s in the shadow of her sister once again – of course she’d never admit that. From here we several flashbacks from the points of view of the narrator, her sister, and the other victim a classmate of the narrator’s named Kazue.

What makes the trial particularly scandalous is the fact that Kazue was a manager at a prestigious firm. Much is made of why someone so successful would sink into prostitution and Yuriko is more or less a secondary concern. This, as you might guess, gives the narrator great satisfaction. Because she’s pretty terrible.

Three of the sections are not from the narrator’s point of view but instead from the points of view of Yuriko, Kazue, and their killer. Yuriko and Kauze’s journals are accounts of their life at the prestigious high school the three of them attended, and their eventual turn to prostitution and the killer’s confession is a rambling biography of how he ran away from his home in China with his sister and eventually made his way to Japan. TL;DR – it sucked, he became a sex slave for a high ranking Chinese diplomat’s daughter, his sister was duped into prostitution by a Triad, he wanted to have sex with his sister, his sister died on the way to Japan. It’s total bullshit, dripping with bullshit, wrapped in bullshit.

And now we come to the part where I’m supposed to tell you what happened with Kazue and Yuriko, how they became prostitutes, how they fell so low, and how they eventually died. But I’m not going to because my stupid fingers aren’t good enough to do the book justice and because I want you all intrigued. I want you to read this book. It’s dark, and it’s difficult, and it will break your heart at every turn and that’s a good thing. This is, perhaps, the best book I’ve read all year – maybe in the last few years.

I know this was a shorter post and another one that’s pretty scatterbrained but when you read something great, it’s hard not to talk about it like an idiot. At least for me. So try to just trust me when I say this book is great and well worth your time. Go forth and read it you faithful sods! You might hate me, yourself, and the world a little bit more afterward, but what’s the world done lately that’s so great?

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