Natsuo Kirino (3 stars)

Grotesque (Harvill Secker)


The title of this book alone should have you assuming the brace position, particularly in light of award-winning Japanese author Natsuo Kirino’s reputation for driving right to the slippery limits of the human psyche. Long and relentlessly grim, Grotesque reads like a car crash, exploring sex, conformity, cruelty and death in stark, discomforting detail.

Two prostitutes are found murdered: Yuriko, a freakishly beautiful career hustler, and Kazue, a deluded, but fiercely intelligent blue-chip professional gone bad. Told largely from the perspective of Yuriko’s older sister (herself a bitter, twisted individual), the complex narrative roots out what made such ‘monsters’ of each: be it lust, self-obsession or jealousy. In the process, it delves into the minutiae of not just the female mindset, but Japanese society itself. Clocking in at 467 pages, the book often gets bogged down, although Kirino’s brilliantly raw, voyeuristic style drags it through towards its bleak conclusion. Don’t say you weren’t warned.

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