I can't even remember when it was that I actually got Out. Looking at the condition of my copy, most likely it was something that looked interesting when I was browsing a charity shop. Despite this, it has been fairly prominent in my mind due to the fact that before now I had tried to read Out three times without success. While a lot of this was to do with conflicts with my university work in my first year, I was still somewhat reticent going into this one.
Out primarily follows four Japanese women who are stuck in dead-end night shift jobs working at a boxed lunch factory, all of them dissatisfied with their lives in some way. The status quo is violently upset when one of them, a young mother named Yayoi, snaps and kills her husband after finding that he's spent all of their savings on prostitutes and gambling. Terrified of being caught, she confides in the closest thing she has to a friend at work, Masako, who unexpectedly agrees to help get rid of the body. To do this she recruits Yoshie, a diligent and overworked widow working to look after her bedridden mother-in-law, and Kuniko, a feckless woman with more debts than she could ever hope to pay off. When some of the body parts are discovered, they have to deal not only with the police asking questions, but also with some shadier characters including the nightclub owner that the police are convinced committed the crime.
I have mixed feelings about this book. First, the positive aspects. It is incredibly well-written, with great atmosphere and some fantastic twists that I didn't see coming at all. The characters are all well-fleshed out, with understandable, if very frustrating on occasion, motivations and behaviours. Keep in mind that there aren't really any "good" characters and you'll be in for a treat; I think one of the problems that I had in my previous attempts was that I wanted someone to throw my lot in with, and that's really not possible here. Certainly I had "favourites", but I still didn't really like any of them. All in all, a really solid thriller that I would almost recommend wholeheartedly for those who like their thrillers and crime fiction extra gritty. There are just a couple of things that don't quite gel with me. The first element that doesn't quite work for me is Masako's intuition. From the perspective of other characters, she comes across as a very no-nonsense, logical sort of person, and very cautious in her assessment of things. But then at the same time, she will also get these strange intuitive moments where she will just know things that would require some pretty big leaps of logic from her perspective. It took me a while to notice this one, because the steps that she takes are largely the same ones that I did while reading: the main issue that I have with that is that I had the benefit of seeing the actions and inner thoughts of other characters, gaining information that Masako has no access to. For example, about three quarters of the way through the book, another murder is committed and Masako just happens to get a bad feeling about the situation at the time and then miraculously guesses the identity of the victim before she can even see their face. I had read the murder scene previously, so I knew that something would be going wrong, but what possible reason could she have had for knowing? The second part that didn't sit right with me was the climax of the book. It just got really weird and uncomfortable. Around the two thirds mark, the focus starts to shift from hiding the husband's murder and dismemberment to this weird rapey sort of contest between Masako and the main antagonist. While I could sort of see how the situation as a whole had come about, I got to the final couple of chapters and it just went too far with it. I don't really know how to describe it without spoilers, but there's just this completely out-of-left-field change of heart in the final two chapters followed by an ending that just sort of stops. It really put a dampener on what had been an otherwise fantastic novel, and it's just so disappointing.
Overall, Out is definitely a novel that I would recommend to any crime or thriller fans who like their books to be gritty and gory. For me though, a novel that could have easily gotten full marks from me around the middle mark was spoiled by some occasional leaps of internal logic and an ending that just did not feel right. A pretty solid recommendation nonetheless. 4/5
Next review: Victims by Shaun Hutson.