In Real World you meet a group of teenage girls who live a typical life in Tokyo. They go to school, spend summer breaks studying even more at cram school and flirting with boys (and girls). Each girl has her own teenage troubles, be it sexuality or family issues. The pressure to succeed, to become something only forces the girls to see the flaws, real and imagined, in their family and friends. To escape their real lives they end up taking a personal interest in the boy next door who murdered his mother and skipped town.
Natsuo Kirino writes books that will freak you out a little. She will introduce you to characters who appear to live ordinary lives in Japan but underneath the veneer of normalcy lies a twisted and depraved subculture. Is it the culture, the climate or the history that changes these people and allows them to so cooly slip into a life of crime? In each book, you meet people who only in flirting with death do they feel alive. Although this really worked in her previous books, Grotesque and Out, it didn't quite work in Real World. It is still fascinating to read about people who so casually accept murder and degradation, but the teenage dialogue was a little too annoying. And I have to tell you, if this is really a portrait of teenage life in Japan...yikes!
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37 of 39 people found the following review helpful
Darkness of the HeartJuly 18 2008
- Published on Amazon.com
Natsuo Kirino's "Real World" is a Japanese coming-of-age story with sobering twists. She has structured her narrative as a relay race between the major players: each character takes her or his turn from the first-person perspective describing the ongoing action, discussing their thoughts and motivations, and revealing their not-so-pretty histories.
The high school girls of "Real World", though markedly different individually, have a few things in common. They worry about school. They talk about relationships. They all think they are hiding something from each other when in fact their fears, flaws, and sexual practices are all too obvious to their peers. Above everything else, they loathe their parents.
Therefore it is not surprising that, when a teenage boy outside their circle goes on the run after being accused of murdering his mother, their reaction is initially one of empathy and fascination rather than repulsion. Their decisions to help him cover his tracks, and subsequently protect each other, have ramifications that will last for the rest of their lives.
The result is an engaging character study of Japanese teenagers facing the pressures of Japanese society - observing familial obligations, meeting cram school demands, avoiding perverts on the train - and suddenly being confronted with a situation none of them has the maturity to handle. Particularly interesting is Kirino's portrait of the teenage boy as the fugitive whose grip on reality unravels before our eyes.
I have two objections to the novel. The first is one of authenticity: although externally the girls exhibited differences (one is smart, one is a lesbian, one is a slut, and so on), their internal monologues were painfully similar, so much so that I was constantly losing my suspension of disbelief. This gave rise to my second objection: I frequently wanted to yell, "You idiot!" to the particular narrator at various points of the novel. Dealing with teenagers, this might be expected, but the similarity between their voices, and hence the lack of individual 'reasoning' when it came to decision-making, made me frustrated with these female anti-heroes. Still, I remained attached to the book until the very end.
I would recommend "Real World" specifically to those readers who have an interest in modern Japanese culture. Based on other sources, I think the environment Kirino describes is accurate, and the struggles faced by teenagers there realistic and reflected in her writing. As to whether she does justice to her characters, or if they are merely facets of herself projected into different situations, is a little harder to tell.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
"Real World" is Modern-Day JapanAug. 20 2008
R. A. Stone
- Published on Amazon.com
"Real World" is not just a book about Japan and young Japanese people, it is, in fact a written semi-fictional recording of modern-day Japan as it really has become these days. I should know, I live in Tokyo. I have lived here over 15 years and I have seen it all change so very much. And these days young Japanese are just like Worm and Toshi in so many ways, and THAT is what make this so book so significant and horrifying! Also Kirino is right on the mark with her portrayals of Japanese brainwashed college students, teachers, parents and the overkill 'Authority Rules' group mind that is destroying young individual students before they can even graduate. Get this book and read it. You may not believe some of it, but, believe me, its all too true. Five stars.
20 of 25 people found the following review helpful
A Powerfully Affecting Glimpse into the Dark Hearts of Japan's AdolescentsJuly 24 2008
- Published on Amazon.com
It is difficult to imagine what the Japanese reading audience makes of Natsuo Kirino's dark, nihilistic portrayals of her native country, but her success there as a mystery writer suggests that they must find in her work a compelling mirror of themselves. However, Ms. Kirino's bleak, female-centered representation of Japanese society in OUT, GROTESQUE, and now REAL WORLD creates a milieu at least as horrifying as any of the bloody, heartless actions performed by her characters. Her only three novels so far to be translated into English may feature cruel murders and shocking dismemberments, but for many Western readers, inscrutable Japan may well be her books' most terrifying character.
As she did in OUT, her first novel to be translated into English, Ms. Kirino centers her attention in REAL WORLD on four female friends. This time, however, her focus shifts from the adult world (the four lead characters in OUT were all night shift workers at a box lunch factory) to that of adolescent teens in the summer before their senior years of high school. The four girls are teen archetypes: Toshi the straight arrow, Terauchi the intellectual, Yuzan the boyish lesbian not yet quite out of the closet, and Kirarin the secretively adventuresome one. Cram school and study sessions to prepare for their upcoming college entrance exams weigh heavily upon them, as oppressive and enveloping as summer humidity.
Each girl faces the uncertainties of young adulthood with trepidation - college, or not; dreary life with an office lady career and marriage to a salary man, or something less stultifying than their parents' lives; remaining a virgin, or hooking up; accepting one's sexual identity, or conforming. Each maintains her public front among her best friends, schoolmates, and family as though wandering through a masked ball, all the while wrestling with far deeper internal conflicts, resentments, hatreds, and insecurities. Even their names are signifying masks. Toshi, for example (whose full given name Toshiko means nothing more than ten and four, representing her birth date of October 4), adopts the alter ego Ninna Hori, Japanese characters for a temple moat. Yuzan, on the other hand, is really Kyomi Kaibara; her name Yuzan was borrowed from the father character in a popular manga series.
Into the midst of this angst-ridden circle of teen females falls Toshi's teen-aged boy neighbor, nicknamed Worm by the girls, who has just murdered his mother with a baseball bat and escaped to the countryside on Toshi's bicycle. The four girls are drawn into the Worm's orbit like moths to a flame: Toshi aids Worm's escape by refusing to answer questions from the police detective, Yuzan loans him her bicycle and buys him a new cell phone, and Kirarin joins him "on the run." Seemingly small acts matter, and unintended consequences abound. Each girl in her own way is fascinated by his willingness to act, to strike out without concern for the consequences against the aspects of his life that aggrieve him. What appears as an outwardly senseless criminal act to the media-driven adult world seems understandable if not perfectly reasonable to them. Would that they had the courage to act as he did, to lash out against the constraints and hypocrisies in their own lives.
Ms. Kirino tells her story by alternating voices from chapter to chapter among the four girls and Worm. By doing so, she gradually uncovers disturbing aspects of each girl's life - indifferent parents, absentee fathers, a daughter left alone with her mother as she slowly dies from ovarian cancer, a mother having an affair, unfaithful boyfriends, sexual harassment of a young girl on her daily train ride to school. Yet even as the girls' respective characters take shape and add complexity, the fugitive Worm - the book's central male character - regresses from a threatening, Raskolnikovian nihilism to a frightened, blubbering infantilism. Kirino's is a distinctively female world, dominated by mothers, female police detectives, school friends, and lesbian friends of Yuzan who take on names like Dahmer (as in Jeffrey, the cannibalistic American serial killer). Males are ineffectual or absentee fathers, clueless braggadocios like Worm, gays, and boyfriends who act thoughtlessly, or tentatively and too late.
REAL WORLD reveals the crime and its perpetrator in its first pages, so the crux of its story is not solving the crime, nor is it even the chase. Rather, Ms. Kirino uses a shockingly brutal and apparently senseless act to explore its effect on four young women sitting at the cusp of adulthood. She thereby shines a stark light on the Japanese teen female psyche, drawing a picture of child-adults who are variously scared, victimized, misunderstood, ignored, oppressed by adult and societal expectations, and altogether alienated from the world around them.
As in her two previous books translated into English, Ms. Kirino proves herself more a social critic employing the murder mystery genre than a mystery writer. Her interests are not in the crime or even the chase, but in the main actors themselves and those who events draw in from the periphery. If, as it is said, the novel gives readers a chance to go places they might never go, see things they might never see, and meet people they might never meet, then Ms. Kirino's books certainly accomplish this feat for Japan, particularly for Western readers. However, the people, places, and things she shows us about her country are as darkly disturbing as the murders that precipitate her chains of events. Her bleak ending in REAL WORLD offers little hope of redemption or a better future for her characters. Only Toshi seems to make a positive movement forward, yet we know she is scarred for life and doubtless headed for the same sterile future her parents have lived. As Worm's case illustrates (further amplified by the actions of the philosophically intellectual Terauchi), there is no hope of escape from their societal straightjacket.
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
You'd better like long, monotonous teenage angst.May 1 2010
- Published on Amazon.com
Like so much Japanese "literature", what we have here are extremely perceptive observations about the modern world and its transgressions, the moral quagmire of disaffected city-dwellers, and a search for meaningful "world" in a hopelessly fragmented society. It's all pretty heady, interesting stuff I suppose, but "Real World" is a bleak book about self-absorbed, nihilistic Japanese teenagers who despise conventionality and embrace a pathetic, odious murderer.
The plot revolves around the absolutely horrific crime of matricide and a small click of girls who wind up becoming "groupies" of the kid who smashed in his mom's head with a baseball bat. Sound pleasant? There are certainly some interesting details about how Japanese teenagers view their social "worlds" as being artificial constructs, and long for a transcendental experience to elevate them out of their monotony.
Unfortunately, for all of this oft-repeated metaphysics -- there is scarcely any plot or momentum in the book. It consists of chapter after chapter of first-person testimonials from the girls and the obnoxious murderer himself, about how this has played into their own feelings of isolation and hatred of modern society. Kirino's teenagers are all kind of superficial and boring, even if they have a certain gloss of verisimilitude. The one that comes across the most like the author herself, Terauchi, is of course also the most brilliant observer of the human condition and dishes out some philosophy on true acts of psychological rebellion versus merely superficial acts of hatred and revenge. But it's not a whole lot to chew on for a reader that's slogged through to 150 pages. Ugh.
On one level, this book is a trenchant if depressing portrayal of a lost generation. But honestly, it's a very unbalanced book, tiresome to get through, and ultimately about a repulsive subject. Happy to put it down.
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Played-OutJuly 28 2009
Phyllis P. Pie
- Published on Amazon.com
I am not a fan. Here's a bit why:
Yes Kirino's latest release is a psychological study of the female psyche, following the same format she used in *Out* and *Grotesque.* Yes it is about murder, isolation, sexuality, violence, alienation, camaraderie-those themes that popularized her other translated works.
Yet *Real World,* for me, fails because its themes are so formulaic: she has already told this story. Although Kirino channels herself through a clic of high school girls (and a murderous boy), therein going in a different direction than she did in *Out* with its band of housewives and *Grotesque* with its shifting temporality, what she actually has to say is old news: over-emphasis on education; the dissolution of the family; teenage prostitution; the pressures of a dystopic Japanese society that have given rise to murders such as Sakakibara (Youth A) and, now, Worm--the political slant of the novel is undone by its sheer repetitiveness. So when the story ends with the clic in disarray and the "world" of the youth shattered, one cannot help but yawn. All that's missing is a passionate sex scene in the woods while the murderer and his lover are on the run from the police...oh, wait, that's in there, too.
Kirino similarly fails to capture the voice(s) of Japanese youth in a convincing manner. Although this may be the fault of the translator, the multiple voices within the novel itself hardly stand apart from one another, lending to confusion at times and wrapping the story in stale phraseology (what teenage boy calls his mother "old lady"?), banal dialogues, and an overall tiresomeness that is difficult to shake. The interiority of the characters is impressive, and each has her (hardly culture-specific) issues to resolve (promiscuity, sexual orientation, overall geekiness). So it's unfortunate that there is no depth to the voices Kirino tries so hard to create.
What to do with this story, then? At 208 brisk pages, it's light reading compared to Kirino's other works and may even be entertaining in some passages. And if you like translated books from east asia that feature an Asia woman's eye on the cover (*Out* and *Grotesque* come to mind here, too, along with any number of others) then this book might be worth having.