lunes, 20 de enero de 2014

Out

Out [Auto] (Vintage International, 2005)
by Natsuo Kirino [translated from the Japanese by Stephen Snyder]
Japan, 1997

Leaving aside the rather embarrassing matter of how the idiotic Out ever fell into my clutches in the first place, the next time you're thinking about passing up buying an Akutagawa or a Kawabata that you'd like to read for Bellezza's Japanese Literature Challenge 7 and Tony's January in Japan and instead decide to settle on an obviously lesser work just because it's the only Japanese novel you have left on your TBR, please profit from my hard-earned lesson.  Fuck me!  Laughably bad (and yet excruciatingly boring) crime/dismemberment/sadism/social commentary novel in which doltish interior monologues ("An evil omen, she thought, looking away.  Yayoi had just killed her husband.  What could be more ill-omened than that?"), hamfisted descriptions aplenty ("She was sweet, even apart from her value at the club, but for him she was just a fancy pet he liked to spoil.  Like the skin that covered their bodies, his relationship with her was all on the surface"), and unconvincing character exposition/psychology ("He felt it was useless trying to explain to someone as young as Anna that usually hatred was an emotion arising out of the desire to be accepted by another person, and it didn't apply in this case") (52, 179-180, 233) all go to show that there's a reason Natsuo Kirino's never mentioned alongside the likes of Chandler and Hammett and Highsmith (never mind Proust and Musil and Woolf).  Perhaps worst of all, in a "feminist" novel (not my idea) which spends 400 pages building up to an entirely predictable game of cat and mouse between its resourceful but love-starved protagonist and the sadistic murdering rapist who's out to get her, Kirino has the supermarket paperback novelist's gall to suggest that the two characters are just two peas in the same Stockholm syndrome pod (376):

She knew now that his hatred was on the verge of erupting, and that he seemed to be enjoying the game of pushing it to the brink.  She had seen the amusement in his eyes, seen how much pleasure it gave him to play cat and mouse with her.  But she'd also seen that something in him was unhinged and impelling him toward an explosion.  That same thing was inside her, too: it was the part of her that had secretly thought she might be willing to die as long as it was at his hand.

Drivel.  Or as The New York Times Book Review would have it: "A nervy thriller...  A potent cocktail of urban blight, perverse feminism and vigilante justice."  Like I said.

Natsuo Kirino

29 comentarios:

  1. Respuestas
    1. Sure, now you give me this sage advice. But where were you in 2008/2009 when I was apparently momentarily unconscious at the bookstore?!?

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  2. I think I read one or two pages of this book before returning it to the library. I really enjoyed reading your review though. So few people are willing to write really bad reviews on their blogs. I think they're good for the soul.

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    1. James, your first sentence proves that you're at least 398-399 pages smarter than I am. Plus, you weren't dumb enough to pay for the book like I did. Totally agree about "bad reviews" being "good for the soul." 1) I think it's useful for other readers to know what you dislike as well as what you like. 2) It's one of the few ways you can pay back an author for having wasted your time and moolah. 3) Helps exorcise the demons of the reading experience.

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    2. I do. And yes they're good for the soul :-)
      Example: http://bookaroundthecorner.wordpress.com/2013/08/04/not-even-good-enough-for-a-beach-read/

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  3. Although I didn't remember feeling your level of disgust with this I did start on about the descent into "quasi mystical death worshipping psychobabble" in my review. But I liked some of it. I think we could award a joint "Avoid" as a blurb for the cover of the next issue.

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    1. "Quasi mystical death worshipping psychobabble"? That's pretty good! And far more accurate than The New York Times review's line about "mingling biting feminist commentary with engrossing storytelling." That blurb's missing at least two strategically-placed sics, you know?

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  4. Personally, I feel as if the skin that covers my body has been scraped by your review. I have a feeling I would just hate this book so you would accept me….

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    1. I much prefer your simile to Kirino's. Even though I have no idea what you're talking about! To give you an idea of how bad this book was, though, I'd rather reread Kristin Lavransdatter than Out and I'd almost want to read another Margo Lanagan than another Natsuo Kirino (none of these things will ever happen, of course, so no need to worry on my behalf).

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  5. This reminds me of a Japanese film - Audition - I'm happy to say that I failed to watch all the way through a few years ago, as it also featured intense sadism, dismemberment, "perverse feminism and vigilante justice." I wonder if this is something of a genre in Japan.

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    1. I vaguely remember the previews for Audition although I don't think I was ever fortunate enough [cough] to have watched it. My loss, I guess. The dismemberment scenes in Out, although unpleasant, were way less unpleasant than the novelist's hack writing and "edgy" attempt to push the female empowerment angles through dodgy, utterly preposterous characterization; here, for example, is another reverse nugget about the protagonist Masako that I left out of my post: "Once she got home, she went straight to the bathroom to begin thinking about how to lay out the corpse and get the job done. Though she knew the feeling was possibly the sign of a sick mind, there was a part of her that was exhilarated by the challenge" (69). Like I said, drivel!

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    2. It's a genre. I also watched Audition, my only foray into this genre. In the theater! An extremely painful experience.

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    3. Another thumbs down for Audition, eh? What, did it lack the humor and subtlety of Bloodsucking Freaks?!? Thanks for confirming the existence of the genre anyway.

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  6. Very funny. I'm sorry you wasted precious reading time on this, though. Why didn't you abandon it?

    It reminds me of my reading Therapy by Fitzek for German Lit month. (Just in case you'd stumble upon this one in November. Stay away from it)

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    1. Thanks for the warning about Therapy, Emma. It wasn't on my radar, but now it will probably stay off my radar! Why didn't I abandon Out? Stupidity mainly. I'm trying to reduce my TBR this year rather than just buying new books all the time and I'd had this particular novel for four or five years, so I thought I should persevere after all that time. I'm also trying to read more female authors this year, something I probably wouldn't even worry about if I weren't blogging. So stupidity and blogging, I guess, blogging accentuating the stupidity in this case. It was a great waste of time considering I could have read, say, two Thomas Bernhard novels that I would have been sure to enjoy for the same amount of reading time/pages. Lesson learned, I hope. Bah.

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  7. Ou(t)ch! Thanks for doing us the service of reporting your traumatic experience. Japanese transgressive fiction is probably a response to their earlier exploration of literature of doom. I'm fortunate to have encountered good examples of the genre in the stories of Kōno Taeko and some of Ryu Murakami's books (selected books only, like Scott, I abandoned 'Audition' (the book) after several pages).

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    1. Thanks, Rise, and "Ou(t)ch!" indeed (good one, by the way). Although I was happy to hear about your occasionally positive experiences with Japanese "transgressive fiction," I should probably make clear in case I didn't in the post that I thought Out was more sensationalistic than transgressive in my book. I think Kirino just wrote the dismemberment scenes for shock value, and I think she would have been crucified for writing as stupid a justification for her characters' actions had she been a male author (especially the bit about the female protagonist's fantasy that she might like to die at the male psycho sadist's hands--can't get over how lame that bit was). Anyway, I'll take your advice and read a Kobo Abe or something a little more intelligent next time.

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  8. At least your commentary on this one made me laugh.

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    1. Ha, glad somebody derived some pleasure out of my misery, Brian!

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  9. Oh, dear...well, at least you're two for two in hating the Japanese literature you've read? I'm thinking here of Kafka on The Shore, which didn't fly so well either. Indeed, classics seem the better choice for you. Sorry this was such a disappointment to you.

    Looking forward to our discussion of 2666, of which I've read the first three parts.

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    Respuestas
    1. I'm actually 0 for my last 3, Bellezza, because I struck out last year with both Mishima and Murakami (although I didn't review the Murakami). I did love The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle when I read it, though, and I liked Miyuki Miyabe's All She Was Worth OK when I read it several years ago. I need to read more J-lit--just not the books I read the last two years! P.S. Looking forward to the 2666 discussion as well--glad you made it so far...so far! :D

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  10. I've been thinking of your scorn for this novel and have two things to add. One, perhaps some of the triviality comes from the effect of translation? The other is that I think that those who appreciate this novel are those who have been subjected to the cruelty of a man. Just some thoughts, as I haven't read it in four years and even now might come away from it with a different perspective.

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    1. Thanks for the follow-up. Somebody else who enjoyed Out also suggested to me that maybe the translation was to blame. While that might have been a small part of it for me, personally I think Kirino's just a crappy writer: case in point, all the excerpts above but especially the last excerpt in the post. Proposing that an otherwise intelligent character might want to die at a sadist's hands? Not plausible at all. As far as whether the novel might appeal more to people "who have been subjected to the cruelty of a man," yeah, maybe in theory I guess. But then I still don't think this novel really said anything important about that theme, nor do I think it was "entertaining" (or empowering) to read as far as the writing goes. I could say the same thing about a million other books, of course, but the novel's popularity is a mystery to me.

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    2. I haven't read it in many years, and I'm unable to respond articulately to your points; suffice it to say that I respect your opinion, of course, and that for whatever reason at the time that I read it I liked it. Could have been that I understood it, and as it was one if my first forays into the genre that was a relief. So many times I felt like I had just been dropped down into the middle if a story which now I've come to appreciate.

      It's interesting to me that you liked Wind-up Bird and not Kafka...they seem "birds of a feather" to me in their elusiveness.

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    3. A lot of people like Out, Bellezza, so I don't find it so strange that you at one time agreed with that opinion and maybe still do. As far as the two Murakamis go, I thought the World War II scenes in The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle were super powerful and tied in nicely with Tooru Okada's struggle with violence in the present day. For whatever reason, I also felt the more "psychedelic" scenes were a lot more interesting than the ones in Kafka on the Shore (the struggle with the supernatural worm in the latter struck me as laughably bad sci-fi, for example). I think I also found the character of Kafka pretty unconvincing, but I've gotten over the disappointment enough to consider giving Murakami another chance at some point. When he's at his best, he seems to tell an exciting story at least. P.S. By the way, I read both Murakamis in Spanish because I was so disgruntled about hearing that the U.S. version of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle had cut about 50 pages from the book. Why would anybody want to read a book that long and then find out that it was abridged? Still makes me mad, I tell you! :D

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    4. I'm glad to hear your viewpoint, Richard, because to me they were similar in many ways. I still don't get that giant eel thing at the end of Kafka, and I totally didn't get the end of Wind-Up Bird. I find Murakami's books take a second or third reading for me to feel I grasp some of his points. I took great comfort when I read a quote from him that he wanted his readers to be "wide open to possibility." That means I don't have to understand everything in exactly the way he meant, perhaps.

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  11. Keepers, Richard, I wish we could talk face to face because I keep having all these thoughts pop up as I reread our comments...you're so right that Out is not empowering. I think that was part of the effect: the way that women were victims. Now, I certainly don't accept that role in my life, as an independent American, but could it be that some Japanese women really do feel subject to such victimization as is expressed in Out? That was my take as I recall...

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    Respuestas
    1. I wish we could talk face to face, too. However, let's say that some Japanese women feel victimized as represented in Out. What does that mean for readers who don't feel the same way or already know that that's the case? The point by itself isn't terribly interesting or insightful to me, for example, and even if it were, I'd probably be better off reading about it in a news piece, a magazine or a scientific journal article. That returns us to the matter of what Out brings to the table as a piece of fiction. For me, it's not much: not to be harsh, but I rarely encounter books that dull or implausible. I'm not trying to persuade you, by the way--just want to make clear why I thought the book was such a disappointment.

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    2. I understand. Dull and implausible are two horrible ways to encounter a book, and when reading a book strikes me as such, I cannot bear it either. On that point we completely agree.

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