Real World by Natsuo Kirino – review

REAL WORLD by Natsuo Kirino
Vintage, 2009, 208 pages, 978-0-307-38748-6, Trade Paperback, $14.00

Genre: Psychological Fiction

I originally purchased this book as a gift for someone else, and though I was curious about it, I didn’t intend to read it immediately. My best friend (receiver of the gift, in fact) has been recommending Kirino to me for ages, and I even have a copy of Out on my shelf, but it simply hadn’t waded to the top of the stack. I didn’t think Real World would, either, but out of curiosity I skimmed the first two pages right before wrapping it, and the next thing I knew, I was at the library borrowing a copy.

I read it over the course of a few hours. At slightly more than 200 pages, it doesn’t take long if you just keep going. But what drove me wasn’t the short page count. It was the style of writing and the exploration of the characters’ thoughts and feelings. There was constant forward momentum, and I couldn’t stop myself, nor did I want to.

Natsuo Kirino doesn’t pull any punches. She’s brutally straightforward about many things, and in a way that’s almost shocking. As a reader, I expect to have personal revelations from the characters, but often those things are cloaked in language that dampens the intensity rather than releasing it. There’s none of that in Real World. In fact, I find the title of the book quite apt, as I believe in these characters and have even known people with similar personalities who, no doubt, had similar feelings as well. In some portions of the book, in fact, I experienced an eerie sense of vulnerability, and I was stunned when I recognized the thoughts of the girls as things that I, myself, had thought once upon a time.

This book is quite psychological, and though a crime happens, bringing with it all of the requisite drama and tension, the murder is more a vehicle than a central point. Real World is much more about perceptions–what others perceive of you, what you perceive of yourself, what you perceive others know, and what they perceive that you know that they know…. And if that sounds confusing, don’t worry, it’s not just you.

All of the main characters in this book are teenagers—four girls and a boy—each with their own take on the world, but each with a lack of certainty as to their place in it. Kirino explores the various social pressures of Japanese society on its young people, from child-parent relationships to sexual harassment to cram school and entrance exams. Each of these things manages to isolate the characters from society and, to some extent, from each other. To differing degrees, these issues create the push that propels the characters toward their ultimate ends.

Some readers may find the actions of Toshi, Yuzan, and Kirarin foolish as they relate to Worm, considering that he’s a murderer, and they should be old enough to “know better.” Others who are capable of truly putting themselves in the places of these characters will better understand that their need to root for him, and to even help him on occasion, is more about their own desire to lash out at the things that keep them captive. The image they hold of him is not that of a killer, but of someone with the courage to take action. To take himself to “another world.”

Ultimately, the story does not end happily for anyone, though I’ll not go into detail. Those who are able to escape their bonds do so at great expense, while the lives of the other characters are irrevocably changed as a result.

Real World is a thoughtful book full of social criticism and psychological exploration. Absolutely worth reading.



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