Monday, 4 February 2013
Out - Natsuo Kirino
"It didn't make much difference where the man was from, she thought, there was no cure for the kind of depression that came from working in that factory."
The opening section of this novel builds a picture of four women (Masako, Yoshie, Yayoi and Kuniko) who work side by side on the night shift on an assembly line putting together packaged meals. The work is hard, the hours disruptive of their lives outside. Other things are clearly not right in the lives of the four women and one, Yayoi, has a large bruise on her torso on the night when we are introduced to them. Her beauty, for she is the most beautiful of the women, has not brought her luck. "Her looks were so conspicuous at the factory that a number of women had taken to bullying her, though others were nice to her."
It was her husband who hit her and he has also spent their savings on baccarat and a beautiful escort that he is obsessed with. Before he comes home he has been beaten up by Satako, the owner of the baccarat den and escort bar. This will lead to suspicion falling on Satako when Yayoi kills her husband. The other women agree to help her cover up the crime. This is the start of a journey through the world of criminals and loan sharks and personal epiphanies and more death. As relationships between the four women become strained Satako, who has lost everything closes in on them, bent on exacting revenge.
For me the most successful part of Out is the gritty portrait of the world these women inhabit, a world in which they are second-class citizens because of their gender. The main character, Masako, had worked in an office for years but was never proffered advancement. She has become hardened and is disconnected from her family and her life. Yoshie is the hardest worker in the factory, and her proficiency has earned her the nickname Skipper - "She worked as hard as anyone at the factory, and when she came home, she felt like a worn out rag." Kuniko is consumed by the desire to escape from the world she is in and spends all the money she has and more besides on clothes and make-up - "She wished suddenly that she were a different woman, living a different life, in a different place, with a different man. 'Different', of course, meant several rungs up the ladder".
When the murder is being investigated the detectives visit all the women and call in to the factory. At times it is as if the detectives are investigating two crimes, the murder and the position into which these women have been pushed by society. "As he went on taking notes, Imao thought again how hard it was for these women working nights."
It also leads the women to pay careful attention to their own lives and to search for reason or meaning in them. Masako: "Once, a while ago, she'd compared her career at the credit union to an empty, spinning washing machine, but now she realized it had probably been much the same at home. If that were the case, then what had been the point of her life?" Kirino has a talent for creating a real and metaphoric world which is firmly set in a world where women endure domestic and career drudgery, where their ambitions are suffocated by their responsibilities. Husbands and children take all they have and then abandon them.
As well as the atmosphere and characters the book contains rather a lot of plot and I did feel after around halfway that plot started to dictate rather more than character. Up to that point I felt that this had the potential to be a real favourite but it didn't quite live up to its early promise. Not that I didn't enjoy it, if enjoy is the word for such grim pleasures as this book offers.
The biggest disappointment was the ending, which arrives at a transformative moment of quasi mystical death worshipping psychobabble. It was as if Kirino was too focussed in having the various threads culminate in a climactic moment and left me wishing that she had ended the book earlier.
This reading was inspired by