17 January 2008

Social suffocation

Thanks to the wonder of online library catalogs (and the trusty library card I always carry with me), a lovely stack of books was waiting for me at my parents' house this Christmas. Natsuo Kirino's chilly Grotesque (translated by Rebecca Copeland) was the first one I dove into: an unreliable narrator pile-up filled with social suffocation and what it feels like to be trapped in the mind of a thwarted woman-child.

Each version of events lends itself to reinterpretation and further distrust of the principal narrator’s account. The supplementary material the narrator adds to her story (Yuriko’s diary, Kazue’s diary, Zhang’s deposition and account of his past) flatly contradict her own perceptions. Although what occurs at the end should serve to lend more sympathy to the narrator, the very fact that she’s allowed other voices in undermines her tale, leaving this reader merely annoyed with her pathetic posturing. But whose telling is really “true”? Isn’t it simply a matter of both/and rather than either/or? And given the social context in which she finds herself, could the narrator have chosen any other way?

Kirino elegantly exhibits the difference between truth and fact, while making it clear that compassion is needed for both.

UPDATE: I decided to use the handy litblog search engine over at MetaxuCafé to see what others had to say about it.

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