Grotesque (novel)

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Author Natsuo Kirino
Translator Rebecca Copeland
Country Japan
Language English, originally Japanese
Genre Crime novel
Publisher Harvill Secker
Publication date
February 1, 2007
Media type Print (Hardcover, Paperback) & Audio CD
Pages 467pp (hardback)
ISBN 1-84343-270-6
OCLC 123293449

Grotesque is ostensibly a crime novel by Japanese writer Natsuo Kirino, most famous for her novel Out. It was published in English in 2007, translated by Rebecca Copeland. Publisher Knopf censored the American translation, removing a section involving underage male prostitution, as it was considered too taboo for U. S. audiences.

Plot summary[edit]

The book is written in the first person for all parts and follows a woman whose sister and old school friend have been murdered. The narrator of Grotesque is unnamed and forever lives under the shadow of her younger-by-a-year sister Yuriko, who is unimaginably beautiful and the center of all attention. The narrator hates her sister for reasons which remain more-or-less unclear throughout the novel and the writer leaves it to the reader to decide if the narrator's hatred is a product of jealousy or because Yuriko has turned to prostitution and disgraced the family name.

While the narrator is smart, responsible and plain looking, Yuriko is strikingly beautiful but flighty and irresponsible. Despite this, everyone is automatically drawn to Yuriko, who, as soon as she is old enough to realize her power on men, starts toying with one man after another, subsequently turning into a full-time prostitute. As the novel progresses, the reader is introduced to many other characters with whom the narrator comes in contact at her highly prestigious Q High School.

With time, the narrator grows to hate everyone including all her classmates, her parents and all her co-workers. She is particularly spiteful when it comes to Yuriko and one of her classmates Kazue Sato.

When both Yuriko and Kazue turn into prostitutes, are murdered less than a year apart and in the same gruesome fashion, and the narrator comes in possession of their personal journals, her life is entwined with theirs and she uncovers truths which she never thought existed. The journals take her on a journey of self-discovery where she finally realizes what she wants. She also adopts Yuriko's handsome but blind son, Yurio.

In the end, the narrator is seen treading the streets of Japan, looking for a customer as she delves into the mysterious and dark world of prostitution.

Structure and style[edit]

The novel is divided into 8 parts: parts 1, 2, 4, 6 and 8 are told by the unnamed narrator; part 3 is the journal of Yuriko, the narrator's sister; part 5 is the written report by Zhang who is accused of the two murders; and part 7 is the journal of the narrator's school friend, Kazue Sato.

All parts are told in first person, with the main narrator being an example of an unreliable narrator who, being more interested in herself than in the fates of her sister and schoolfriend, cannot therefore be trusted to properly represent the facts of the case she describes.


Fordham, the reviewer in The Times, writes that the book is about women struggling to be taken seriously by men, and their consequent retreat into "coldness, violence and dehumanisation". All want control in their lives, and seek it in different ways.[1] The reviewer for The Telegraph, however, sees the theme in terms of Japanese society and culture, writing that "Grotesque is not so much a crime novel as a brilliant, subversive character study. Kirino's real concerns are social, not criminal; her true villain is 'the classist society so firmly embedded in Japan' which pushes her protagonists along the road to prostitution".[2]

Overall, then, as well as exploring women's psyches, particularly in terms of their relationships with men, Kirino explores women in the context of Japanese society and how its rigid hierarchy operates against their ability to fully participate within it.

The novel is said to have been loosely modeled on the victim of the unsolved Murder of Yasuko Watanabe (aka the TEPCO OL murder case)[3]


  1. ^ Fordham, Alice (2007) "Out of Control", The Times, 24 February 2007
  2. ^ Secher, Benjamin (2007) "It really is a complete fabrication", The Telegraph, 27 March 2007
  3. ^ Ozaki, Eiko (尾崎英子) (February 7, 2011). "『追悼者』折原一著 思い込ませて罠にはめる". Fukuishimbun online. ; book review of Ichi Orihara's mystery novel Tsuitōsha, which states that it and Kiriu's Grotesque were both modeled on the murder case. It is not clear if this freelance reviewer performed a fact check. The statement is often repeated in personal book review websites, etc., but not many citable sources were found on this.