Real World, By Natsuo Kirino, translated by Philip Gabriel

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The Independent Culture

Western stereotypes of Japanese femininity take a battering in the fiction of Natsuo Kirino – a crime writer who has placed some decidedly non-submissive female protagonists at the heart of her noirish thrillers.

Set in a Tokyo suburb, Real World opens with a matricide. Failing to live up to the academic expectations of his prestigious school, Worm, an "elite" student, bludgeons his bespectacled mother to death. He then enlists the help of Toshi, his teenage neighbour, to evade the authorities. Along with three of her girl friends – Terauchi, Yuzan and Kirarin – Toshi keeps in contact with Worm via a stolen mobile phone. One by one, each of the girls is drawn into Worm's orbit. "In my heart I'd murdered my own mother long ago" says Terauchi, the brainiest of the group, hand-picked to write Worm's "avant garde-ish" manifesto.

As in Out and Grotesque – her first two novels to be published in English – Kirino creates a fictional universe in which the normal rules of engagement no longer apply. Through Worm, she chronicles the toxic fall-out of an educational system that fosters conformity above individualism .

Worm seems to approve of his creator's approach: "Novels are closer to real life than manga, it's like they show you the real world with one layer peeled away, a reality you can't see otherwise." And Philip Gabriel's excellent translation helps to bring this lurid tale into even sharper focus.