The pressures of youth and beauty


Title: Grotesque

By: Natsuo Kirino

I enjoy contemporary Japanese fiction as much as I do their horror films, which are often as taut and dark, the denouement always leaving me agape. So I was delighted to find that Natsuo Kirino’s Grotesque, scheduled for March, 2007, had its release pushed forward by a month, making it the author’s second novel after Out to be translated into English.

Out is “gruesome,” “daring and disturbing” and as I discovered last night, shortly after ensuring that all doors had been bolted and the dog put on guard, that Grotesque turns up the ante on several counts. In modern day Tokyo, two prostitutes, the stunningly beautiful and selfish Yuriko, born of a Swiss father and Japanese mother, and the bland, eternal outsider Kazue, who works for a blue chip company during the day, are murdered brutally within months of each other in the same way—“In the first floor apartment in the Maruyama-chō neighbourhood in Shibuya, her clothes in disarray.” The dead girls have something in common. They both studied at the same expensive and elite school for young ladies alongside Yuriko’s charmless older sister, who narrates their story with help from the girls’ journals, insights from the victim’s family, and Chinese immigrant, Zhang Zhe-zong, who has been arrested for the crimes.

Zigzagging madly through Tokyo noir, this extremely sexual novel is a disturbing insight into the pressures that youth and beauty bear, and of the fatal repercussions of not conforming. Not as graphic as Ryu Murakami’s In the Miso Soup, Grotesque will nevertheless cost you a few sleepless nights.