Natsuo Kirino’s Out is a gritty grimy tale of what people are capable of when pushed to their limits. Or more importantly, it is about what women can do when their circumstances become too much to bear.
Masako, Yayoi, Yoshie and Kuniko work together on the night shift in a boxed-lunch factory. Each has her own problems, spirally debt and violent husbands, the pressure of being a carer and ungrateful offspring. Their roles as mother, daughter or wife are proving unfulfilling and the work they are doing is unsociable and back-breaking.
Something has to give.
And when it does, it unleashes a world that these four women could never have imagined.
One night, when Yayoi discovers that her husband, Kenji, has lost their entire savings at a nightclub where he is infatuated with one of the hostesses she is pushed to her limits and strangles him with her belt. Turning to her friends for help, she enlists them (with the promise of money) to get rid of his body but chopping it up and disposing of the body parts in the garbage in and around Tokyo while she pretends he has left her.
When pieces of Kenji are finally found and Satake, the night club owner who fought with Kenji is arrested and a life insurance policy is about to pay out, the four women think they are free but they are about to spiral into a world of violence, revenge, blackmail and backstabbing.
The story of Out is a pretty unrealistic one. Would these women really risk everything for a work colleague? Not only that, would an ordinary woman so easily agree to cut up a body in her own bathroom? One of the women, Yoshie, sees the job is stark terms, just taking what she does in normal life one big step further
I always seem to be doing the jobs nobody else is willing to do…
If you go with this rather unbelievable premise, Out is a great read. Mainly because the story is less a slice of realism and more a frame upon which to hang a political discussion about the lives of women in Japanese society today.
All the women are taken for granted, by their partners and their families. Masako, who worked in finance, was laid off for speaking her mind. Kuniko, who is addicted to buying clothes and cosmetics is constantly reminded that she is not pretty enough to find work in a bar. Even Satake’s beautiful girlfriend Anna knows she has about five years left as a hostess before she too is consigned to working in much less glamorous surroundings. These are women without hope. And more dangerously, they are women with nothing to lose.
As the situation closes in around them and the novel sets up a denouement that pitches Masako against Satake, the women come to realise what it is they truly want from life and in some ways come to understand who they truly are and their subsequent fates appear to mirror their personalities. As the English title suggests, their trues selves are brought out. Masako, the strongest of the four from the beginning, finds within herself a strength of will that would have been unimaginable before and realises that this is her one and only chance to get out.
As she listened to Yoshie’s litany of woes, she felt as though they were all stuck in a long tunnel with no sign of the exit in sight. She just wanted out, to be free of everything. None of it mattered any more. Anyone who couldn’t get out was doomed to a life of endless bitching – the life they were leading now
The book is unapologetically violent and disturbing, but in some ways it has to be. To fully comprehend the unhappiness of these women, we have to see what they are willing to do in an attempt to alleviate that unhappiness. Kirino does not judge these women (except perhaps the disloyal Kuniko), that is left to us and as such, Out is less of a crime novel and more of an examination of forgotten lives in a society that prizes youth and wealth above all else.
20 Books of Summer: 4/20
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