Book Review: Grotesque

Tuesday has become (book) review day, it seems.  Although, if I slow down with the reading, or don’t complete a book in time, it may soon become a movie review post too – so I hope you’re happy to come along for the ride!  Oh, and I feel the need to preface this book review (and probably all I write!) with:  I’m HOPELESS with names.  I totally forget who is who, and most certainly what their name is.  Occasionally I read a whole passage of text and get totally perplexed who did what.  I’m not sure what’s missing in my brain, but hopefully it won’t make for a totally disjointed review!

For another review, follow the image linksource: winstonsdad.wordpress.com

For another review, follow the image link
source: winstonsdad.wordpress.com

Grotesque makes the third Japanese book I’ve read in the last few months.  It’s an unintentional theme – and next up is something homely and American, for a change.  Grotesque written by Natsuo Kirino, wasn’t all that grotesque.  But it certainly stirred up some memories of my competitive schooling!   The narrator leads the story – starting with the death of her sister and a school acquaintance, both who’ve graduated from a prestigious elite school to become prostitutes.  The book then deviates into separate sections, that outline the narrators upbringing, the journals of both the dead girls, and brings everything together from the various character’s perspectives.

I think the part that spoke most to me was the sections devoted to the schooling, and the hate between the narrator and her sister Yuriko. (Not that I have a sister, or hate my siblings).  I do relate to her desire to get into a school to escape the curse of her breathtakingly beautiful sister, and her malice when her academically challenged sister gains admission to the school, largely based on her looks.  The narrator also makes ‘friends’ (and I use them term loosely) with Kazue and Mitsuru.  Both relationships are fraught with competition, maliciousness, deception and plain meanness – extending beyond the school years.

The book is dripping in hatred.  Prostitution is a large theme, that perversely brings everything full circle at the end of the book – which surprised me, and perhaps it should have.  However, the story did seem to get more and more desperate as it unfolded (not the writing, but the character Kazue’s life in the second last chapter).  It was a well written, cleverly developed story.  Interestingly, it’s a ‘crime’ book, but not at all like other crime books – I can hardly recall if police were ever involved.  The court scenes are minimal, and a lot more time is dedicated to the context of the crimes.  Overall, it was an engrossing, heavy and perverse book – all in the best ways – it really did lower you into the depravity of prostitution!

However, next up, give me some lightness and joy in a book, please! I look forward to something a little brighter next! (I’ve started on A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith, and I’m about half way through, so I should be ready with a new review next Tuesday!)

Book Review: Kitchen

Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto was recommended by my blogger friend Dar, after I read another Japanese book recently: The Wind Up Bird Chronicle

Kitchen by Banana yoshimoto

Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto

The book is written with two stories – the longer ‘Kitchen’ and then ‘Moonlight shadow’.  The stories are similar in themes and feeling, but don’t share characters.  The themes of death and grieving are pervasive, but it’s interspersed with healing and growth.

Kitchen focuses on a university aged girl, Mikage, becoming an orphan, after her grandmother passes away. (The story’s name of the story comes from Mikage’s peace and love of kitchens – spending the first days of grieving sleeping by the refrigerator) Another family takes her in, a transvestite ‘entertainer’ Eriko and his/her son Yuichi.  As the story unfolds,  Eriko dies in a perverse attack at work, and Yuichi starts to experience the same grief as Mikage had when she’d been living with them.

The second episode is about a young woman, whose name escapes me (like most characters’ and I can’t find now!).  She’s suffereing the grief after her boyfriend, Hirage, dies in a freak accident.  In the accident, Hirage’s brother girlfriend also dies. Both the main character, and Hirage’s brother continue to see one another, and explore their grief in differeing ways – either running or cross dressing.

It’s a short book, and relatively easy ready, with some challenging themes.  It was published in 1988 (I would have been 3!), but I wonder where the world was with concepts like transexuality and cross dressing that this book touched on?

Book Review: The Blade Itself

The Blade Itself by Marcus Sakey may or may not have been the book recommended by a friend on Facebook.  The small issue of the author was unknown, but I took the gamble nonetheless.

Danny, an Irish American living in Chicago, grew up on the wrong side of the tracks, with his mate Evan.  In their late teens, they commit a robbery of a pawn shop.  Danny sees a chance to slip away, after Evan turns violent and severely injures two people.  The book opens with this crime, and then fast forwards seven years.  Danny’s still with Karen, but he’s now straight and in the building trade.  Evan has been granted early release (due to prison overcrowding).  You can almost guess what’ll happen next.  Evan’s spent seven years stewing on the fact that he served time and his mate walked free.  Evan, of course, did not implicate his mate in the crime all those years ago, but now the time to settle the score…

Danny, naturally, wants nothing of his old life, now that he’s happily in love, and earning a great living in construction.  But as Evan starts to threaten Karen, there’s no alternative for Danny but to join Evan ‘one last time’.  The plot is tightly written, and carefully sets itself up for the final scene.  Every character serves a purpose to enhance the story.  I thoroughly enjoyed this easy read, and will be looking to see what other things Sakey has published.