Real World by Natsuo Kirino

“A while ago I saw the evening paper at the convenience store. An article about me. I wanted to see, like, what the world’s thinking about it. It didn’t seem real. It was like I was dreaming. I looked up and there on the TV was the front of my house and some reporter babbling away. ‘What sort of ominous thing dwells in this suburban neighborhood? What happened to this boy who’s disappeared? Is the same darkness in this boy hidden in this seemingly quiet neighborhood?’ It felt so weird.”

D’ya feel like you wanna go back to the real world?”

“I can’t,” Worm said coolly. “This is my reality now.”

“So why’d you make a reality like that happen? It’s you who made things that way, right?” (p. 52)

When Toshiko Yamanaka’s next door neighbor, Worm, murders his mother, she and her three high school friends become irrevocably involved. What perhaps started as a game, with the four of them answering Worm’s calls on the cell phone that he stole from her, ends up as anything but fun.

Part of me cannot imagine that this novel could be based in anything close to reality; the part of me which watches the evening news in horror knows that it’s all quite possible.

The real world…what is that? Is it the world that we’re living in while fighting for our identity and place? Or, is it the world that we try to create as a safeguard from hurt? Worm says, while he’s trying to run from the consequences of his actions:

I was getting closer to the real essence of who I am. A revelation was welling up from inside me. What that essence was, I had no idea, but I was getting more and more confused, my existence more pointless by the minute. Is that who I am? Is that all? I got awfully sad, and tears started to stream down my face. I wiped away my tears with the prisoner’s handkerchief, which smelled like perfume and detergent. From out of nowhere I felt like reality was going to crush me. The reality of having murdered my mother. Fight on! Fight on! I tried like crazy to stifle the tears. Just then the prisoner’s cell phone rang. It was Toshi. I felt rescued. (p. 131)

But there is no rescue for these Japanese teenagers. The world they have created is one from which they cannot escape. It is no better than the real world in which they forge their daily existence.

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26 thoughts on “Real World by Natsuo Kirino”

  1. Beautiful review, Bellezza! 'Real World' looks like a scary, bleak and thought-provoking book. Your review made me ponder on what is reality – whether it is a perspective of a person or it is something objective that is out there. I read Natsuo Kirino's 'Grotesque' a few years back and liked it – I found Kirino's style of writing quite powerful, but the story quite bleak.

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  2. Grotesque is the one remaining book of hers that I haven't yet read. I loved Out; Real World strikes me as even more bleak (great word!) if possible because the characters were teens. One can understand jaded, cynical adults, but to find such despair in teenagers is distressing to me. Especially since my son is 19. I wonder if I'm too removed from high school; although they weren't terribly happy years for me, I wasn't as reckless or nearly so depressed as these characters were depicted.

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  3. This is the first time I've read one of your book reviews and had no desire to pick up the book. None whatsoever.It isn't that it's bleak or filled with despondency. I can deal with that. It's just that the writing seems so bad. The long paragraph from page 131 reads like the self-absorbed and slightly pretentious musings of someone so out of touch with his reality there is no resonance, no sense of life. If that's what the author wanted to convey, that's ok.But when I read the sentence, "I got awfully sad, and tears started to stream down my face", the first thing that came to mind was my favorite quotation from Chekov:Don't tell me the moon is shining. Show me the glint of light on broken glass.This one feels like there's too much telling and not enough showing, too much detached analysis and not enough human-heart-in-conflict-with-itself for my taste. But you sure did pull some words out of me with your review!

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  4. Linda, I'm amazed that by only reading the little passage I quoted that you were able to so astutely define the main character, the most troubled one, with these words: "pretentious musings of someone so out of touch with his reality there is no resonance, no sense of life". Absolutely!I think what doesn't sit well with you, and actually with me, is that this novel is told from the teenagers' point of veiw. They're very self-obsessed, consumed with their own needs and wants much like toddlers are. I think that Kirino deliberately did that to show us the thoughts/actions of Japanese youth.A novel of gorgeous writing? Probably not. A novel of the angst in being a teen? And then some!(I love your Chekov quote: very powerful.)

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  5. Real World is a very intense, chilling book. The author has a powerful writing style which draws you into the lives of the characters. Excellent review.

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  6. Suko, I really felt that the teenagers were speaking to me. I can't imagine how she was able to get into that mindset, being ten years older than me at 49, but she does a masterful job of portraying that age group. It almost makes me shudder when I think of my son, who is 19, and what goes on with him and his peers of which I know nothing about. That's probably a good thing; I pray for him, and trust he'll behave as he was taught. 😉

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  7. Sounds absolutely horrifying. In more ways than one. I tend not to read books like this as I find I get too worked up by the intensity–and you're right that it's frightening that sometimes fiction doesn't seem so far from the twisted reality that comes on the nightly news.

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  8. Crikey, Bellezza! This one seems intense. I loved your review of it! The fact that it could be real, makes it even more difficult to want to get through, but it sounds like such an intriguing read. The quotes you included make you want to find out what happened to Worm and how he could do such a horrid thing. Hmmm.

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  9. Rachel, I know you and I both like those tension filled thrillers, and I think you would like this one. It's short, too, much quicker than Out (although I liked Out better).Nadia, I'm so glad that the quotes I included gave such a good indication of what's inside this 'intriguing read' as you said. It absolutely has made me wonder how Worm could have done such a horrible thing, and seemingly so without remorse.

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  10. Alright, I'm going to give this one a try. I, too, loved Out but thought Grotesque was indescribably awful. Here's hoping my third try with Kirino will be a charm!

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  11. I've only read Out (which I loved) and Grotesque (which disturbed me) and although I love Kirino's style and storytelling, I feel that I need to mentally prepare myself before reading her books. Of course, it's not going to stop me reading her work! Her stories are contemporary and deal with a lot of issues that plague Japan at the moment. It's not something I might want to know about, but somewhere, it's probably really happening.

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  12. Colleen, like you, I loved Out; now I'm scared to try Grotesque! If it's "indescribably awful" (and I believe you!) I'm not sure I can manage it. These two have been pretty intense, although Out 'redeemed itself' by discussing more issues than blood and gore. What's unbelievable in Real World, to me, is that the characters are so young. Scary!Chasing Bawa, you really do have to be mentally prepared for these writers of noire. Phew! I've never been to Japan so I don't know much about it's current (or past) issues, but I was fascinated into this glimpse of teenage life as out of the ordinary as it may be. I loved reading about all the AC units, and the convenience stores, and the cram schools to get ready for college entrance exams…I could really picture their lives. It reminded me a teeny bit of Murakami's After Dark.

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  13. Interesting. The plot reminds me of Mishima's Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea, although that story is told in the third person. Perhaps because it is also about the unthinking cruelty of teenagers (though more motive there, perhaps)? Nice review, but don't think I'll be reading this one.

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  14. Great review, sounds like a very intense book! I´ve seen Natsuo Kirino´s books in my library but not dared pick any of them up. Would you recommend starting with this one?

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  15. Iris, even though you thought it was disturbing (which it is!), I'm glad you enjoyed the review.Kathleen, the cover is very engaging. At first I thought the lines coming down from the title could be tears, but they also seem to represent a descent that the characters made throughout the novel.Bermuda Onion, I'd love to know where Natsuo Kirino got her idea for this, just how based in reality it is. It would be horrible to imagine it came from a news story or something like that, yet we hear horrible things about American youth from time to time.ds, I've never read The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With The Sea (why does that title remind me of Hemingway's The Old Man and The Sea?), but I'd like to read it and compare the two.Bina, I much preferred Out although Real World is shorter. That's the novel I'd start with if I was you.Savide Reads, same with you; begin with Out then I can't wait to read your thoughts!Marie, thanks for reading them. 😉

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  16. Another great review – and unlike some of your other readers, I have this (maybe morbind) interest in reading this. I dont know if I will get time to in this years JLC, but I'm interested now in this author. I find reading the comments here so eye opening and I appreciate how everone who has read this author has been able to say what they think. Thanks

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  17. I couldn't stop smiling when I read your comment – "Just be glad you're not the mother of a teenager, Trish! They can bring some of your worst nightmares into fruition. ;)". I read a book recently called 'The Film Club' by David Gilmour, which is the memoir of the author, and is about how he tries to help his son who is a difficult teenager. I posted my review of it here – http://vishytheknight.wordpress.com/2010/06/24/book-review-no-14-the-film-club-by-david-gilmour/Do tell me what you think about it. If you have already read this book, I would love to hear your thoughts on it.

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  18. i've read this book and i loved it. i am a teenager myself (16) and i love reading about thedse kind of things. i was looking up crimes commited by young people in japan and found out that some of the events in this book are based on what really happened in the news."A 17-year-old considered to be a "nice" boy got into a fight with his schoolmates over haircuts, and then went home and beat his mother to death with a baseball bat. According to the police, he smashed his mother around the head because she refused to give him pocket money. Alienated children who shut themselves away are a concern The boy fled the scene and when caught later, 1,100 kilometres (700 miles) away, he told police that he left his mother dying because she would have disapproved of his fight with schoolmates. In other cases, a 17-year-old boy bludgeoned passengers at a Tokyo subway station with a baseball bat after a fight with his father, while a pair of teenage lovers stabbed a taxi driver and stole his earnings "so they could live together"."source: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/1377781.stm

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