(Translated from the Japanese by Stephen Snyder) First published in Japan in 1997 by Kodansha Ltd. First published in Great Britain in 2004 by Vintage. IBSN: 9780099472285. 522 pages.
Out revolves around four women struggling to stay financially and emotionally afloat under very difficult circumstances. They work the night shift on an assembly line preparing boxed lunches at a food processing factory in a Tokyo suburb. It’s a back-breaking job, but the pay is good. Each one has her own reason to work out of sync from the rest of the world.
The leader of the line, Masako Katori, is in her late forties. Her skills are rather wasted. She lives in isolation with a husband who is locked up in his room and a son who won’t spell a word.
Kuniko Jonouchi is twenty-nine and sees herself ugly and fat. A faction victim, she is heavily in debt. She wishes to be a different woman, living a different life, in a different place, with a different man. Her live-in partner has just abandoned her.
Yoshie Azuma, “the Skipper”, a widow in her late fifties has to take care of her invalid mother-in-law, a teenage daughter and a grandson. She can hardly sleep and she can hardly make it until pay day.
Yayoi Yamamoto, the most attractive woman on the night shift, is thirty-four. She is a married woman with two small kids, ages five and three. Her good-for-nothing husband is an alcoholic that beats her.
One night Yayoi strangles her husband out of range because he has lost gambling all their savings. In desperation she turns to Masako for help. She doesn’t want to go to the police since she doesn’t feel like having done anything wrong.
Not sure why Masako decides to help her. Her plan is to cut up the body put the pieces in garbage bags and spread them all around Tokyo. Somehow Yoshie and Kuniko manage to get involved in this macabre plan with the promise of getting paid for. But due to the negligent behaviour of Kuniko the police find some bags and the body can be identified.
The main suspect is Mitsuyoshi Satake the owner of the casino where Yayoi’s husband used to gamble, but he is finally released due to lack of evidence. Having lost his reputation Satake is then determined to find the real murderer and to have his own revenge.
This is quite a bleak story and the novel is heavy going to say the least. I found it too lengthy, unnecessarily lengthy. There are passages that can get a bit tedious and are sometimes repetitive, almost monotonous. And the final is very disappointing.
Out (1997) received the Grand Prix for Crime Fiction, Japan’s top mystery award, and was a finalist (in English translation) for the 2004 Edgar Award.
Natsuo Kirino is the nom de plume of Mariko Hashioka (1951) a leading figure in the recent boom of female writers of Japanese detective fiction.
Out is my second contribution covering Asia to Dorte’s Global Reading Challenge.