The Goddess Chronicle, by Natsuo Kirino

The Goddess ChronicleMany moons ago I read Kirino’s Out, a bonkers mystery/thriller story which I remember much more fondly than I gave it credit for back in the day. So when this book came up in my ordering, I was like, yes, I will put a hold on you right now.

The Goddess Chronicle is almost nothing like Out, although it is bonkers and it does have a sort of murder mystery to it. This novel deals with a girl called Namima who, we find out in the first paragraph, has died and now lives among the dead. Before that whole death thing, she was born on an island with some interesting religious practices that led to her sister becoming the island’s Oracle and being universally loved and praised while Namima, the yin to her sister’s yang, became the hidden, untouchable priestess of the dead. Not pleased with her lot in life, Namima broke a few rules, ran away, and eventually ended up dying with some unfinished business, leading her to the realm of the dead in which we meet her.

There she meets Izanami, the goddess who helped create the world but died in childbirth and ended up ruling the dead and choosing who will die every day. She has some issues with her husband, Izanaki, and we spend a few not-terribly-exciting chapters learning all about those, and then we get back to the good stuff, including Namima getting a chance to find out what happened to her family and then several chapters about that no-good husband, Izanaki, and his lady-loving adventures on the high seas.

I, to my shame and embarrassment, had no idea there even was a Japanese mythology to speak of before reading this novel — my mythological life was shaped primarily by the Greeks and Romans and then later those Norsemen, and of course being an American I worship different cultural gods. Luckily, the novel is apparently part of a series of novels retelling myths, many of which are making their way onto my TBR list as we speak so that I can stop being quite so ignorant.

Anyway, the point is that I found the story of Izanami and Izanaki quite fascinating; it is strongly based on cultural ideals of masculinity and femininity and gender roles that play out in Kirino’s frame story as well. If this book isn’t already on the syllabus for dozens of sociology classes, those hypothetical professors are doing it wrong.

I also loved Kirino’s writing, from the way she constructed a perfect myth-telling sentence (okay, those accolades might go to her translator, Rebecca Copeland) to the way she employs foreshadowing in my absolute favorite way — telling us what’s going to happen (like Namima’s death) and then letting her story be the interesting part of the novel rather than the filler between exciting plot events.

The Goddess Chronicle was almost entirely not what I was hoping for, but it was delightful in its own right and a book very worth reading.

Recommendation: For those in the mood for a slow, lyrical story, and especially those who fail at knowing Japanese mythology.

Rating: 7/10

Out, by Natsuo Kirino (11 January — 14 January)

Out was an optional novel for the class on mystery novels I took last spring, but I read something else instead. After reading it, I can definitely see why it would be on a class syllabus, though I’m not sure it can really be called a mystery.

The book follows the stories of four women — one who kills her husband and the three who end up disposing of the body. All four of them are intent on covering up the crime, and it seems they will when another suspect turns up, one who has a murder on his record already. The mystery, as it were, is whether or not these women will get caught. It’s a distinct possibility throughout, what with detectives asking questions and certain of the women just being generally stupid. It’s more of a thriller, really, and the story really picks up steam near the end when all the carefully laid plans start falling apart.

Kirino lets you see scenes from the point of view of all of the characters, sort of rewinding the tape and starting over so you can see what’s really going on. It’s a good story-telling device, but it started getting tedious after a bit when I just wanted the story to get a move on, already.

Rating: 6/10
(Countdown Challenge: 2003, Support Your Local Library Challenge)