Grotesque is a bleak Japanese crime novel set in Tokyo. Our unreliable and unnamed narrator (the closest she gets to a name is “Yuriko’s older sister”) recounts her childhood with Yuriko - her unnervingly beautiful younger sister and enemy - and a school friend, Kazue, both of whom had turned to prostitution. The pair has recently been found murdered, separately but presumably by the same killer.
I loved Grotesque; I liked it even more than Out, Kirino’s better known and more popular novel. Grotesque is an intelligent, dark and angry novel, with an intriguing story and complex characters. I disliked all of the characters in Out, although the plot was a little more action packed and exciting. Grotesque has a lot to say about the role of women in the very business-oriented man’s world of Japan; this book definitely has a strong feminist aspect, focusing on the concept that the only way women can advance in the world and gain power over men is to use their beauty and sex:
“For a girl, appearance can be a powerful form of oppression. No matter how intelligent a girl may be, no matter her many talents, these attributes are not easily discerned. Brains and talent will never stand up against a girl who is clearly physically attractive.”
“In order to induce the process of decay, water is necessary. I think that, in the case of women, men are the water.”
“Yuriko’s older sister” is not a nice character – she’s cold, complicated and bitter. She’s unhinged but this makes her a fascinating narrator. As readers, we are not held hostage by the protagonist’s warped view of the world for the entirety of the novel; it changes to the perspectives of three other characters, which helps to shed light on the character of the protagonist, as well as allowing us to piece together the mystery of the murders. Near the beginning we have Yuriko’s diary entries, then later an account written by the so-called murderer, a Chinese man named Zhang, and towards the end we are made privy to Kazue’s diary.
Grotesque is well worth a read for anyone who enjoys crime novels and thrillers, as well as those with an interest in Japanese culture. It’s a touch slow in some parts, but other than that is a well written, intriguing, poignant and intelligent novel. Grotesque’s conclusion is dark and bleak; it left a profound sense of hopelessness hanging over me which both astounded and saddened me.