Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Real World

Now that autumn is here, I long to stay inside in the cool evenings, sip warmed apple cider, wrap myself in a throw, and read a sweet, comforting book.

Instead, I read about murder, violence, sexuality, and alienation.

These are some of the themes in Real World, a dark tale about Japanese teenagers living in a suburb of Tokyo. Written by Natsuo Kirino, published in 2003, and translated into English by Philip Gabriel in 2008, this short novel tells the story of four teenage girls, Toshi, Terauchi, Yuzan, and Kirarin, and a boy called Worm. Each resents society and their parents and has something to hide. When Toshi's neighbor, Worm, goes on the run after being suspected of matricide, the girls initially react with empathy and even fascination, rather than repulsion or fear. They are quickly drawn into Worm's world, and I was also pulled in. In this modern Japanese novel, multiple voices tell the story; each chapter is told from the point of view of one of the teenagers in this group. They take turns and each character describes the action as well as their thoughts and histories.

This is a chilling book for several reasons. These teenagers seem to be okay on the outside, and some even do well in "cram school", but they're all wearing masks which hide their true feelings and identities (some even have changed their names). As they transition from children to adults, they become disillusioned and seem to be utterly lost. Natsuo Kirino captures the essence of teenage angst and isolation in this novel--and it's taken to a terrifying extreme. The girls communicate with Worm by cell phone and want him to elude the law. They're on his side, and even applaud his actions. His world is exciting and fresh to them--a new world--and he enjoys his elevated status with the girls. These girls are not "bad", but tired of the restraints of society, and confused, forlorn, and isolated--and headed for disaster. I have not read that much crime fiction before, and this is my first taste of Japanese crime fiction. It will not be my last.

For another review of Real World, visit The Reading Life.

Spooky thanks to Carl V. from Stainless Steel Droppings for hosting R.I.P. IV.


Thanks to Meredith from Dolce Bellezza for hosting the Japanese Literature Challenge-3. As I've mentioned before, this challenge has opened up a new world of reading to me.


  1. I have never read Japanese Crime fiction, but what you have said about this book sounds creppy but good. I'll add to me list. Thanks Suko.

  2. Wow, this sounds intense. I'd really have to be in the mood for something like this one.
    Glad you enjoyed it, great review.

  3. I don't think I could read something like this.

  4. I've heard a lot about this book and it sounds really interesting to me. Though it also sounds very stark and scary I think it would be a really diverting read and would be very different from my usual reads. Great review, the book sounds excellent and I will be looking into it, Thanks!

  5. Diane, and Naida, thanks for stopping by. Real World is an intense novel.

    Amanda, I've enjoyed the Japanese Literature challenge greatly. Prior to joining this challenge, I'd heard of a few of the more popular Japanese authors but had never read anything from Japan. Now I'm hooked. This is my fourth post for the JLC-3, and I'm also reading Lizard, short stories by another Japanese author, Banana Yoshimoto (although I won't necessarily post about Lizard).

    Zibilee, this is a fast-paced thriller. It's not my usual genre, either, but I liked taking a break from my comfort zone.

    As always, I appreciate your comments. They add so much to this site. More are welcomed.

  6. I read Out by Natsuo Kirino several years ago and loved it. And now I'm reading Grotesque. Kirino does alienation and isolation really well and her Japan is a different reality from that of some of the better known classical and contemporary Japanese fiction. Thanks for your review, I can't wait to read Real World.

  7. I also enjoyed Real World a lot-I have Out on my shelves now-once I get some of new to me Japanese authors whose books I have read I will read Out-it is interesting to see the very different way teenage and young adults are treated in the work of Banana Yoshimoto-Suko-I do hope you will at least briefly post on Lizard

  8. Your first few lines made me smile, "instead I read about murder, violence, sexuality and alienation." Then, I was intrigued to hear that Philip Gabriel translated this work, as I know he translated much (if not all) of Haruki Murakami's. The whole subject matter is very interesting, as I have an eighteen year old son, and all the better that now he's out of High School and into college. I feel I could write a horror novel of my own about his High School days, where he apparently forget everything I taught him about studying hard and applying one's self. Anyway, I haven't read much of Kirino, (any?) and I'm all the more interested after your wonderful view. It makes me thing that adults often wear masks, too, we're just better at disguising them.

  9. chasingbawa, it sounds as if you've read a lot of Japanese literature, whereas I'm a novice. I may read Out and/or Grotesque in the future. Thanks for stopping by!

    Mel, it was your review that got me interested in reading Real World. Every time I visit your blog, I add a book to my TBR (for example, I just added The Flower Mat because it sounds so beautifully written)!

    dolcebellezza, I'm enjoying this challenge immensely and know I must read something by Haruki Murakami one of these days. I wonder how you became interested in Japanese literature--please excuse me if you discuss this on your blog. My problem now is that I want to read too many books by Japanese authors, and lack the time. (You're right about the masks--maybe it starts during the teen years?!)

    Thank you all for your thoughtful comments. More are always welcomed.

  10. Suko - Thanks for stopping by BookEnds. Now if ever there was a book to read based on the cover ... what a striking image and the description of the book is very interesting.

  11. i've been eyeing this at the bookstore and plan on picking it up soon. you MUST read OUT! that is the one that really got me hooked onto this author.

  12. Unless Pearl Buck counts, I don't think I've ever read Japanese fiction. But you've intrigued me enough to make me want to try. I'm esp. interested in the idea of the characters wearing masks. Portraying the subtle intricacies of characters who show one face to the world and another to themselves is hard to pull off - but brilliant when it's accomplished.

  13. Kerri, I had a lot of fun photographing the cover. (I've also seen a few variations of it.)

    vvb32, I will read Out! :)

    K.M., I'd never read anything by a Japanese author before joining this reading challenge. Now I am obsessed!

    I appreciate all of your comments and welcome more.

  14. I totally smiled at - "Instead, I read about murder, violence, sexuality, and alienation."

    God, this review gave me the chills. I am not sure if I will be ale to go through this one at all. I am sure to mark this one for the Jap challenge in the future! As I really need to read more of there fiction!

    Thank you for a great review!

  15. @Suko: I agree with everything you said. This is one of the first books I read this year, and I have to admit it stirred me up a little. It's terrifying, yes, on a psychological level. So while it's very poignant, I was able to take it and enjoy the book for what it is. Nice review for quite a chilling novel :) If you enjoyed this and didn't so much mind the creepy scenes, you might like Natsuo Kirino's Grotesque. That I believe has an even better writing, but it's definitely more disturbing. I chose to stop reading it last year, but I know I'll get back to it someday. Natsuo Kirino is a mystery/noir writer whose works I can also call literary fiction. Amazing writer, in my opinion. And you might know this already, but Out is her most popular and most acclaimed novel (and perhaps most brutal as well).

  16. By the way, the UK covers of Kirino's books are amazing, don't you think? I find them beautiful (in a very dark way). I like the UK cover of Grotesque as well, which in my opinion really captured the story in one picture.

  17. @Belleza: If you want to try a Kirino, I would recommend this for starters, as it seems to be the least disturbing of her three English-translated works. But I do think that this novel is also something that parents (in particular) would find a little more disturbing than kids would. I do hope you like it... cause as I said earlier, it's got great writing.

  18. Veens, thank you for taking the time to read my review. I hope you will try some Japanese literature.

    Mark David, I appreciate all of your thoughtful comments. Many have recommended Out and Grotesque to me--I'm not sure which one I'll read next! I love the covers, too, and tried to photograph Real World to make it look forbidding, like Carl does on Stainless Steel Droppings.

    I really appreciate all of you taking the time to comment, and welcome additional comments.

  19. I enjoyed reading your thorough review of Kirino's novel. It sounds like a fascinating book. As a psychology major, I'm certain to find plenty of meaning in the words and actions of her teenage characters.

    Suko, have you ever heard of Nina Sankovitz's blog? She has been reading a book a day and blogs about it. I could see you interviewing her.

    Also, have you heard of Margaret Drabble? She has been compared to Virginia Woolf, but she is much lesser known.

    Thanks Suko, for a wonderful review!

  20. If Mark David is right about Real World to be the least disturbing, that means I should be able to enjoy it. I read Out a couple of years ago and I believe it's one of the best thriller books I read (or any books). I intend to read another Kirino's books but have read mixed reviews on Grotesque or Real World. The general feeling that I got though people seem to like Real World more than Grotesque (many said Out is still the best of them all). Anyway, it's great to see other views. I'm glad you enjoy Japanese books!

  21. Karen, I am unfamiliar with Nina Sankovitz's blog but will check it out. (How can anyone read a book a day, unless they're children's books or very short ones?!) In college I read The Realms of Gold by Margaret Drabble, but I don't remember much about it.

    Mee--you've changed your profile picture--cute! Yes, I am hooked by Japanese lit, although I must take a short break from it.

    Again, thanks very much for the comments. Of course I welcome more.

  22. @Mee: personally, I think Grotesque would generally be appealing to me compared to Out because from its first few pages alone I was already captivated by Kirino's voice (or the two voices of her main characters, for that matter). But unfortunately, I chickened out of it last year. I might (just might) give it a shot again next year. Or perhaps try Out. I do hope she releases a new book in English translation soon, as she's got dozens in Japanese already.


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