Real World is a very different novel to Natsuo Kirino’s previous two that have been published in English. For a start it is much shorter – a mere 208 pages. The story centres around a peer friendship group of four teenage girls who are approaching critical exams. The neighbour of one of the girls – a lad of the same age, but something of a social outcast – beats his mother to death with a baseball bat one morning and goes on the run. The four girls become fascinated by the fugitive and remain in contact with him, helping him avoid capture. Needless to say (and not wanting to spoil the ending) it leads to tragic consequences.
The novel has five separate first person narrators (the four girls and the boy). Once again Kirino has written what is, on one level, a crime thriller, yet italso defies many of the characteristics of the genre. More than anything else it raises serious questions about Japanese society and, in particular, about how it treats young people and how it responds when those structures that define society break down. Whilst many crime novels serve as critical commentaries on society, the clear-cut morality that is so often a feature of the crime genre (at least in terms of where one’s sympathies should lie) are more blurred than usual. Moral judgement, indeed any judgement is reserved. The anguish we share, as readers, is not anguish at the violence as such, but the psychological and moral anguish of the teenage protagonists.
Further proof, if any were needed, that Japan is currently producing some extraordinary fiction.