A Sea of Hatred

GrotesqueGrotesque cover image

Kirino, Natsuo (translated by Rebecca Copeland)

Vintage, 2003

ISBN: 978 0 099 52083

I’d like to think I’m a pretty patient individual.  I’m okay with working slowly toward things, as long as I feel like the rewards are either incrementally increasing as I go through my task, or that the eventual reward is going to be worth the effort.  This book has taken me a stonkingly long time to finish, nearly six months for 467 pages.  That’s pretty shabby by anyone’s standards.

I mean, you can tell that a book called Grotesque is going to be pretty much up my alley, right?  Pretty promising, lots of references to murder and prostitution and stuff like that.  But the going got tough when I realised that the characters were all pretty much entirely obtuse, which I think is why I had such a hard time getting into it.  I mean, don’t get me wrong, the obtuseness is actually part of the characters, self-indulgent little trollops they are too, but for the most part it was like being talked at by a fourteen year old girl who is yet to realise that the Earth doesn’t actually revolve around her.

This may be made worse by the fact that it’s told in the first person for the first half.  Usually I really like this, when you’ve got two characters squaring off with each other about which version of the truth is the correct one.  This one is a little weird though, because you’ve got two sisters telling you their stories.  One sister, the elder, is embittered, angry – but it’s not a good rage-y kind of anger, more like it comes off as being slightly pathetic.  She’s always moaning on about how horrid (and yet, beautiful) her younger sister Yuriko is, which I have to say, gets a little tedious.  Yuriko is the other voice; she’s just as pathetic, but has this kind of veneer of intractability and stubbornness.  Yuriko is determined to use her sexuality in this really twisted way, which seemingly why she becomes a prostitute in the first place – she sees it as the only way that she can have power over men.

So far, so boring right?

Well… maybe not.  It starts to get good around the time that the alleged killer’s voice is introduced; the only male voice in the story who is really permitted to tell his own story.  His story is told quite interestingly too, through the medium of a dialogue at the trial.  Come to think of it, there are a few interesting subtexts, mostly to do with Japan and immigration, but also to do with family, trust and deception.

Overall, once I got to the end of it, I really liked this book.  I mean, I liked the story of the book, but like I said earlier, the characters were a bit… I don’t know, I hate blaming the translator – to me, it’s like shooting the messenger – but you just never really know if it’s the translation that made an aspect of the story a bit odd or if that was how it’s been written.  And it wasn’t really odd, per se, there just wasn’t… look, maybe it’s me, maybe I’ve been reading too much of this stuff and I’m becoming desensitised, but there was nothing about Grotesque that really grabbed me.  It was a lot like eating a dinner that starts off super-delicious, and then by the time you’re half way through, you’re just eating to clear your plate.  I think that that’s why it became such a mission to finish.

Which is not to say that I wouldn’t go back to it.  There was something in there that was so interesting, so freakin’ oddball and weird that it… obviously there are some major mixed emotions about this book.  Good, but not great, oddball without being entirely out of left-field.  Can’t say that I’d recommend it, but if you’re a fan of first person writing, or maybe Japanese psychological thriller, it’s certainly worth a look into, purely for those aspects.

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Posted on June 1, 2012, in Books, Posts and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. It sounds oddly dissatisfying. Like going to a buffet where the selections aren’t nearly what you expected.

    • That is a very apt simile. There was just something about it that wasn’t floating my boat, and I think that it was the characters. You know, you can have characters who you love, or characters you love to hate, but characters that you don’t really care what happens to them are never going to be very successful.

      Oh well… plenty more fish in the sea. Natsuo Kirino has another book, ‘Out’, which I might see if I can locate to see if it’s the writing (or translating) or if it was just ‘Grotesque’ that I didn’t much care for.

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