GROTESQUE. By Natsuo Kirino. Knopf. 467 pages. $24.95.
Though she is widely published and celebrated in Japan, Natsuo Kirino's latest novel is only her second to be published in English. It is a thriller/suspense story of sorts about the murder of two prostitutes, both one-time students of the prestigious Q School in Japan.
The novel is narrated by the older sister of one of the victims who attended the Q School with them.
She explores the bitter rivalries that were born there and continued to dog all of the characters long after they had moved on with their lives. The unnamed narrator exerts strong control over the story, allowing the reader to view the diaries of the victims, as well as the accused man's testimony, but only on her own terms.
"Grotesque" is an apt title for this book, but not for reasons one might expect. Though the novel's plot revolves around murder, there is relatively little gore or violence. Instead, what is presented as most horrifying in this story is the human soul, or perhaps the human condition.
The word "fate" appears over and over as these characters struggle to assert themselves out of destinies both promising and dire. And yet because of the constraints of society, or their own dark hearts, almost none of the characters find any peace or happiness.
Kirino clearly is a gifted writer and is brought to us by what seems to be a faithful and sensitive translator, Rebecca Copeland. Her talent might cause some to lament that she has not chosen to put her efforts into something more "positive and uplifting."
But Kirino has opted for the darkest segments of Japanese society along with the nether regions of the human heart as her subject. She writes shamelessly and honestly, never flinching. The reader, however, might.