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.

Out by Natsuo Kirino

She had no need for such emotions any more. She’d left them behind. She understood that she’d chosen her path out of the same sense of isolation that had driven her to help Yayoi.

She had crossed a line that day. She had cut up a man’s body and scattered it across the city. And even if she could erase the memory of what she’d done, she could never go back to the way she’d been.

With barely any warning, a wave of nausea rose up in her and she vomited beside the car; but the nausea stayed with her. She dropped to her knees, tears streaming from her eyes, as the yellow bile poured out of her mouth. (p. 291)

If you think the cover of this novel is shocking, you should read the book. I was absolutely mesmerized, drawn in to every detail and event as if I was watching it on film. Almost as if I was there myself. It’s no wonder this novel has been reviewed with high praise in all the previous Japanese literature challenges. What is a wonder is that I’d taken so long to read it for myself.

It’s not just about murder, though, or cutting up the deceased’s body into fifty little pieces and placing them in garbage bags to disperse throughout the city.

It’s not just an intricately woven plot, brilliantly conceived and executed.

It’s about isolation. Power. Bad choices. And what would you do to escape the trials of your life? What irrevocable damage has been done in our world in the name of freedom? What do we really have the power to escape from? Thought provoking stuff.

Out has got to be one of my favorite reads of the year. No wonder it won the Grand Prix, Japan’s top award for mystery.

(Find other thoughts on Out from Novel Insights, Literary Feline, another cookie crumbles, The Reading Life, Terri B., and  Suko (coming soon).