three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
37-Nov-Dec-2008
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A-Real WorldIn her 16th novel, the third to be translated into English, romance-turned-crime novelist Natsuo Kirino lambasts 21st-century culture as reflected in its children.

The Story: In a Tokyo suburb, high school senior Toshi hears the sound of breaking glass next door as she prepares for school one morning. Her teenaged neighbor, "Worm," has just bludgeoned his mother to death and after stealing Toshi’s bicycle and cell phone, has fled into the city. Soon, bored and lonely, Worm uses Toshi’s phone to speed-dial Toshi and her three best friends who, numbed by years of self-doubt, overwhelming schoolwork, and pressures to conform, become mesmerized by Worm’s apparent rebellion and romantically imagine his desperate behavior as an act of courage. As the murder becomes national news, they secretly help Worm remain a fugitive, becoming accomplices to his crime while hurtling toward a terrible fulfillment.
Knopf. 208 pages. $23.95. ISBN: 0307267571

Cleveland Plain Dealer 4 of 5 Stars
"The author is excellent at adolescent self-absorption—bristling with insight one moment, obtuse with vanity the next. … Unpredictable and merciless, Real World is unlike any crime fiction I have read." Karen R. Long

Miami Herald 4 of 5 Stars
"Rather than crafting a simple crime novel or painting a grotesque portrait of people ruled by perverse desires and criminal hearts, Kirino’s narrative challenges readers to confront the truth of human nature, to release judgments about violence and see beyond the act to its roots. … Together [the teens] speak as one voice revealing the secrets of youth in an utterly hypnotic, illuminating narrative that exposes the dangerous gap between parents’ and children’s worlds." Christine Thomas

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"From a writer who has declared Flannery O’Connor her favorite American author—one of the few whose obsessive focus on violence, epiphany and redemption equals Dostoyevsky’s—readers can expect a tour through the grotesque and the extreme. Together, Worm and his four female accessories maximize a dangerous situation’s potential for further destruction and mayhem." Kathryn Harrison

Providence Journal 3.5 of 5 Stars
"While Real World has the guise of a psychological thriller, it really is a novel that looks at the emotional vacuum of teenage culture, one less affected by a brutal murder and its emotional aftershocks than by the glow of its association with a manufactured outlaw. Kirino delves deeply into the feelings of isolation and hopelessness that each girl shares (although as characters they can come off stiff and slightly unrealistic)." Adam Braver

New York Sun 3 of 5 Stars
"Ms. Kirino’s faithfulness to teenage navel-gazing slows down a book that should have been suspenseful, like her first two, Out and Grotesque. … If Real World is indeed a work of social realism, Ms. Kirino is either a masterful cynic or the cartographer of a very scary side of reality." Benjamin Lytal

San Francisco Chronicle 1.5 of 5 Stars
"Few turns of the plot come unexpectedly after the initial murder, and the twists that do come as a surprise are worried over by the characters until they’ve long lost their excitement. … If Real World sounds awkward and melodramatic, it’s because it’s narrated by five self-absorbed teenagers." Andrew Leland

Critical Summary

Natsuo Kirino’s latest noir thriller, a grim look at teen culture, elicited varying reactions from critics. Kirino focuses intently on her characters’ inner lives as she delves deeply into their nihilist worldviews and feelings of alienation. But some critics found the angst-ridden, self-absorbed teens melodramatic and unconvincing, their slang-studded dialogue often cringe-worthy. Tension mounts as narrators shift and events are gradually revealed from different perspectives; however, some reviewers considered the plot depressing and predictable. Instead of a suspenseful crime novel, Real World may function better as an examination of contemporary youth coming of age in a world of chat rooms, text messages, and reality TV who will cling to anything that connects them, however tenuously, to what they perceive as the "real" world.

Also by the Author

Out (2004): Award Star Edgar Best Mystery Novel nominee. In this dark and gritty thriller, a poor woman kills her abusive husband. She then turns to her coworkers at a dreary, boxed-lunch factory to help her conceal the crime.