Book #56

Out by Natsuo Kirino

In the Tokyo suburbs four women work the draining graveyard shift at a boxed-lunch factory. Burdened with chores and heavy debts and isolated from husbands and children, they all secretly dream of a way out of their dead-end lives. 

A young mother among them finally cracks and strangles her philandering, gambling husband then confesses her crime to Masako, the closest of her colleagues. For reasons of her own, Masako agrees to assist her friend and seeks the help of the other co-workers to dismember and dispose of the body. The body parts are discovered, the police start asking questions, but the women have far more dangerous enemies.

Out is the terrifying reality of what can happen when one criminal act escalates out of control.

Four working class women, working in a factory together, become embroiled in the Japanese underworld when one of them kills her lowlife husband. As they work together to dispose of the body, small mistakes lead to them coming to the attention of people instrumental to their downfall.

Immediately after the horrific clean up, we see tensions begin to heighten between the women, as the reality of their actions and the circumstances take root. Kirino does a wonderful job of slowly creating small cracks in relationships, and showing that this initial act of sisterhood isn’t something that will bond the women further, but rather break them.

Kirino makes an excellent analysis of the patriarchal society these women are living in. Considered old women once over the age of 30, and limited to second class status both at home and in the workplace, it’s clear to see how each of our female characters ended up choosing the paths they did.

I was fully engaged with this for around the first two thirds of the novel, but I quickly began to dissociate as the story ascended to its climax. The style seemed to change, an atmosphere of inevitability set in, and I no longer cared what happened to the characters. Kirino also made the decision to write one of the final chapters twice, from the point of view of two different characters. At this point, I really was Out.

A bleak yet thrilling glimpse of Japan’s underbelly, and the lengths oppressed women will go to when necessary.  hat this initial act of sisterhood isn’t something that will bond the women further, but rather break them.