February 01, 2010

Grotesque by Natsuo Kirino

I'd picked this book up from the Kinokuniya Bookstore at San Francisco because of its title, and also the blurbs.

“Kirino helps us aficionados of crime fiction imagine the kind of novels James M. Cain might have written if he had been a Japanese feminist." - Maureen Corrigan


"Natsuo Kirino, celebrated author of Out, seamlessly weaves together the stories of these women’s struggles within the conventions and restrictions of Japanese society. At once a psychological investigation of the pressures facing Japanese women and a classic work of noir fiction, Grotesque is a brilliantly twisted novel of ambition, desire, beauty, cruelty, and identity by one of our most electrifying writers."

Initially, I laughed at the claims and was ready to dismiss it as a badly written, silly page-turner. But once I started reading it, I found myself not only turning the pages but also gripped by its ideas and propositions - viz., the boundaries between physical beauty and repulsiveness, and how their fuzziness is linked to an internal landscape of need and fuzziness, perhaps of the perceiver, and how one transmutes into the other. For the unnamed narrator, her absolutely beautiful sister is preposterous and monstrous precisely because of her beauty. Interestingly enough, I was reading the myth of Cupid and Psyche in The Golden Ass almost at the same time - where Psyche suspects Eros, who embodies both physical desire and beauty, of being a monster. 

The narrative of Grotesque is ostensibly a whodunit, but not really, and I love this conceit and the glorious unreliability and malice of the narrator. And I'm quite fixated with some of the questions it brings up: How can we tell the monsters from the blameless? Are the monstrous really monstrous or blamelessly so, and what about vice versa? And if we turn into monsters - when we do - how do we?

Wikipedia tells me that Knopf expunged a section of the book for its American readers. How now, censorship!

Some other covers of the book:

And a Japanese splatter movie also called Grotesque which has nothing to do with the book.

"With a name like Grotesque, who needs a plot. Will b on it like swine flu."

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