Petty (and Disappointing) Schoolgirls –“Grotesque” by Natsuo Kirino
Her bio mentions that she’s written sixteen novels, and been translated into nineteen languages.
The reviews I’ve read of “Grotesque” all use epic words to describe the book. I’ve heard Harrowing, Chilling, Raging, Engrossing, Complex, Fascinating and even read comparisons to Dostoyevsky. (I should say I read a review of the book originally, which is why I picked it up.)
Truly, though I try, I just don’t know where it’s coming from.
There has to be something I missed while reading this book.
What we have here, folks, is a novel about three Japanese schoolgirls.
These three girls are not lovely little angels. They’re actually quite despicable people. Our unnamed narrator is supposedly the smart one, but she’s incredibly petty and jealous of her beautiful sister Yuriko. Yuriko, we are told on practically every page, is pretty. Gorgeous. Breath-taking. So stunning her very existance causes the world to practically stop. No one can function around her, she’s so pretty. But yeah, she’s petty, too. And then there’s Kazue Sato, who is awkward and of course petty.
As the book starts, our narrator informs us that both Yuriko and Kazue Sato are dead. Both became prostitutes and both were probably murdered. From there, we get the backstory of how they went from petty schoolgirls at the high-pressure Q School for Young Women to dead prostitutes. Which isn’t nearly as interesting as it sounds. (Because it sounds interesting, I realize. I thought so too.)
There’s no likable character to carry the reader through the events of the novel. It soon gets really old to have everything about Yuriko justified because she’s prettier than everyone else in the world. She broke up a marriage because she was so pretty the husband couldn’t keep his hands off her. She became a prostitute in high school because men were just clamoring to have her. It reminded me of a bad thriller movie, where the audience is supposed to be at the edge of their seats about something.. except in this case, you really have no idea what you’re waiting for.
The brightest spots of the novel come nearly at the end, when we’re introduced to Zhang Zhe-zhong, the murderer. His backstory is relatively interesting, though it’s as violent and cold as anything else in the book. He, like everyone else, learns nothing from his journey.
(I also found it interesting that the original Japanese version features a scene of “underage male prostitution” which was deemed too “taboo” for U.S. audiences. – Per Wikipedia.)
“Grotesque” is an angrily written book about cold-hearted people. It’s not about redemption, and it’s not about learning something. No one learns anything from anything that happens.
There are few books I finish with a massive sense of disappointment.
“Grotesque” is pretty near the top.
(Side Note: I’m debating reading ‘Out,’ which is another work of Kirino’s. It was nominated for the Edgar Award, so.. maybe it’ll give me what I missed in this book. I don’t like books that I can’t find at least something good in.)