Grotesque by Natsuo Kirino is a compulsively readable book which grabbed my attention from the very first page when the narrator confessed a seething hatred for her unspeakably beautiful sister. Kirino shows exactly what kind of a curse striking beauty can be for a woman in the same way that ugliness or ordinary features work against women. She provides a scathing indictment of the highly competitive nature of Japanese female schools as well as the workplace and introduces a number of self-loathing individuals whose lives appear to be full of promise when they're young but in fact, their fate has been sealed early on.
Male-female relationships are portrayed as a form of combat; at one point, Kirino says that in order to decay, plants need water and that in the case of women, "men are the water." Ouch! Cruelty, competition and class are the big issues in this book along with sex and what might make a woman choose to prostitute herself.
In the end, Karino concludes that women become prostitutes because they hate other people -- a bit simplistic and dismissing a more obvious reason which is that many prostitutes, male and female alike, sell themselves simply for the money; because they're hooked on drugs or too young to get decent jobs or sexually abused and need to reenact the pattern.
The ending was ambiguous and left me with some unanswered questions but nonetheless, I thoroughly enjoyed every single page of this beautifully written, wonderfully analytical, wildly entertaining and provocative story about a young woman who grows up with an abnormally attractive sister who she calls the monster. "The monster" eventually becomes a prostitute along with another schoolgirl known by the narrator -- 6° of separation? -- and in the end we must conclude that all of the characters are monsters: mean-spirited, self-loathing and ridiculously self absorbed.
Well worth the read. Sigridmac