Tuesday, June 15, 2010


"From midnight until five-thirty without a break, she had to stand at the conveyor belt making boxed lunches. For a part-time job, the pay was good, but the work was backbreaking. More than once, when she was feeling unwell, she'd stopped here in the parking lot by the thought of the hard shift ahead. But this was different, this feeling of aimlessness. As she always did at this moment, she lit a cigarette, but tonight she realized for the first time that she did it to cover the smell of the factory."

~Out, Natsuo Kirino

Ordinary housewives by day, Masako Katori, Kuniko Jonouchi, Yoshie Azuma, and Yayoi Yamamoto are graveyard shift workers at a boxed lunch factory in Tokyo suburb at night. Published in 1997, Out by Natsuo Kirino (translated by Stephen Snyder) won the Grand Prix for Crime Fiction in Japan in 1998, and is the story of these four women.

For various reasons, Masako, Kuniko, Yoshie, and Yayoi work the night shift at the factory. After one of them suddenly kills her abusive husband, the other women help her, and begin their descent into Japan's dark underworld. Although humorous at times, the novel explores the relationships between these women, and paints a dark portrait of marriage and family life. The author brings these characters and others to life through her use of detail and understanding of personality and psychology. This novel emphasizes the role of appearance for women (and for men, to a lesser extent). Appearance seems to determine the jobs that they get, as well as the way they're treated by others. Yayoi is bullied at work by some of the other women for being too attractive, but she is also protected to an extent by Masako. (There's a lot more I could say here--I am barely scratching the surface.)

Out is an unbelievably engaging thriller. Crime fiction isn't my usual genre, but once I started reading it, I was hooked and couldn't put it down. The images conjured up in this book are vivid and haunting, and some are quite horrific. I envisioned the workers walking part of the way to the factory during the damp, shadowy nights, and much more gruesome scenes. This is a story I won't be able to forget!

I read Out for the Japanese Literature Reading Challenge 4, hosted by Dolce Bellezza. Previously I read and reviewed Real World, also written by Natsuo Kirino. I don't think I'll read Kirino's Grotesque, though, because I think I'd find it too disturbing.

For other reviews of Out, please visit Dolce Bellezza and The Reading Life.


  1. I particularly agree with these sentences in your post, that Natsuo "paints a dark portrait of marriage and family life. The author brings these characters and others to life through her use of detail and understanding of personality and psychology." I think I was able to overcome the terrible gruesomeness because she had me so interested in the psychological aspects of her novel. It was multi-faceted in many accounts: of our roles, of power, of family, of abuse, or crime. I loved it!

    I'm currently halfway through Real World; it's good I didn't read that a few years ago when my son was in High School because she depicts the teenager's scorn perfectly! Those are years I'd just as soon forget about.

  2. Wow, you made the book sound so interesting. Another book added!!!

  3. Interesting and, sadly, too true. I'll keep an eye out, though. Thanks!

  4. Great review-Kirino writes about those not able to fit into corporate Japan-Grotesque is the harshest of the three books for sure but I would say it should be read-give it some time-maybe safe it for JL4

  5. You just won an award on my blog! Come check it out here:


    aka Crazy Cat Lady

  6. I have heard so much about this book and have been wanting to read it for quite awhile now. It does indeed sound really dark and disturbing, but sometimes I am in the mood for that! Great review, Suko. I thought your insights on this book were really thoughtful. I am going to add this one to the wish list. I actually think it's already on there, but the list has gotten so big that it might be hard to find!!

  7. Sounds like I would enjoy it, and what a striking cover. Thanks for the review.

  8. YAY...so glad this one held your interest. I loved what you said about it and need to dig out my copy. Great review Susan

  9. The first paragraph had me hooked. YOur review is fabulous. This isn't normally the style of book I would read, but you have definitely won me over with your review.

  10. Bellezza, again I must thank you for hosting the Japanese literature challenge, which gave me the incentive to read Japanese literature, and introduced me to Kirino and other Japanese authors. I look forward to your review of Real World.

    BookQuoter, thanks! I have enjoyed visiting your blog.

    ds, thanks for stopping by.

    Mel, I'm not planning on reading Grotesque. I adore Kirino's writing but I'm sure that the book lives up to its title, and then some.

    Susan, thanks for the fun award!

    Zibilee, I can't remember if you've joined the JLC4 but this would be a great intro to contemporary Japanese literature.

    Diane, I hate to use too many cliches to describe books but this one really is "absorbing" and "riveting". I hope you'll read it soon.

    Vivienne, thank you. Out is one of those books that you can't stop reading.

  11. I just love to find new books to read. Don't think I've read any Japanese fiction and I love thrillers so this one is a definite for my wishlist.

    alterlisa AT yahoo DOT com

  12. Out is not the kind of crime fiction I generally read either. I am more likely to read a pulp detective novel if I'm in the mood for crime fiction. But I had heard so much about this novel that I picked it up a few years ago for the challenge and found it as engaging as you did. It was very much a page turner and it didn't take me long to finish it because I didn't want to do anything else but read it once I got started.

    Like you, Grotesque sounds like it might be a bit much for me, but I do want to read Real World at some point.

  13. I'm drawn to books set in Japan, so I added this one to my to-read list, which of course has more books on it than I could possibly read in a lifetime! Thanks for the great review.


  14. Kerri, I love the cover of this book. There are a few versions--this is the one I have.

    Lisa R., this would be a great intro to the world of Japanese lit.

    Carl V., I hope you do read Real World. Thanks for stopping by!

    Anna, thanks! This book would certainly hold your interest.

    Additional comments welcomed. :)

  15. That does sound like a book that would grab you right from the start! Great review, as usual!

  16. This sounds like a very interesting book. I am curious to see how tht Japanese cultural elements would play into the crime story. Thanks for the recommendation.

  17. I read Japanes writing for the first time when Toyota donated a huge collection to our local library. I tried this one: http://www.amazon.com/Twinkle-Kaori-Ekuni/dp/1932234012

    While it is not the type of book I would typically read, it opened the world of Japanese literature to me, and I think I will add your thriller to my list of books.

    Found you through the hop, thanks for stopping by my blog!

  18. Thanks for the great review! I think it's time I pull this one from under my TBR pile and finally read it.

  19. Naida, like me, I think you'd find this book remarkable.

    Kathy, thank you so much!

    Kristi, there are many Japanese elements in this book, such as how characters address each other.

    Lily, thanks for stopping by via the Hop. I will "check out" the link you provided.

    Kay, this book was in my own TBR pile, too. The JLC4 was my reason for reading it sooner rather than later.

    Thanks for all the comments. More are welcomed.

  20. THIS is why I love doing memes! I find a blog, look at their meme, comment, then explore and find gems that I wouldn't have found otherwise! Thank you so much for this review! My Not-So-Bebe Girl Autumn is multi-ethnic, including Japanese. As a result, I have a lot of Asian influence in the house, from books to decor to music - and the interest has rubbed off on me as well. Another one for my TBR list!

    Julie @ Knitting and Sundries


Your comments make this site lively! Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment. I value each one, and will respond to questions.

If you're entering a giveaway, please leave your e-mail address (or a link that leads to it).

Some of the books featured here were given to me free of charge by authors, publishers, and agents. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.


Blog header by Held Design

Powered By Blogger