2013-06-23

[Book Review] The Goddess Chronicle by Natsuo Kirino

Title: The Goddess Chronicle  
Author: Natsuo Kirino
Published: January 3rd 2013 by Canongate Books
Source: review copy
Links: Goodreads - Amazon - Book Depository
BLURB:
From bestselling author Natsuo Kirino comes a chilling story of retribution and one woman’s revenge.  

Two sisters, Namima and Kamiku, born to the family of the oracle, are separated as children. Kamiku begins her training to become the next oracle, while Namima becomes Priestess of the Night.   

The Goddess Chronicle—a retelling of the ancient Japanese myth of Izanami and Izanagi—pulls the reader deep into the realm of the undead.   
Japanese crime queen Natsuo Kirino’s dark, twisted tale is a fantastical, fabulous tour-de-force. It is a dazzling story of sex, death, gods and revenge that will draw the reader in and won’t let go until the exhilarating end.

REVIEW:
Like the cover says, Natsuo Kirino is the international bestseller author of Out, and that book was the most disturbing psychological thriller I've ever read. Also the most hilarious - obviously, I'm talking about dark humor. I devoured Out, even watched the movie, so when a new book by Natsuo Kirino popped up on Netgalley, I -of course- had to pounce on it. It took me a while to actually read it though. More on that later.
The Goddess Chronicle is #13 in the Canongate Myths. What does that mean? Do you have to read it in order? Which would mean reading 12 books before finally getting to The Goddess Chronicle? No, you don't. You can of course do that if you're interesting in reading myth retellings, but The Goddess Chronicle is actually a standalone. I'll let the "preface" do the proper explaining:
Myths are universal and timeless stories that reflect and shape our lives - they explore our desires, our fears, our longings, and provide narratives that reminds us what it means to be human. The Myths series brings together some of the world's finest writers, each of whom has retold a myth in a contemporary and memorable way. Authors in the series inculde: Chinua Achebe, Alai, Niccolo Ammaniti, Karen Armstrong, Margaret Atwood, AS Byatt, Michael Faber, David Grossmann, Milton Hatoum, Natsuo Kirino, Alexander McCall Smith, Tomás Eloy Martínez, Klas Östergen, Victor Pelevin, Ali Smith, Donna Tartt, Su Tong, Dubravka Ugresic, Salley Vickers and Jeanette Winterson.

I had a hard time getting into The Goddess Chronicle.  Apparently the reason why it took me months to read this lays in the writing style. The book's language is easy enough to understand, especially if one is familiar with Japanese myths, but it's also pretty... dry. I think it was because the author -especially in the beginning- was doing more telling that showing, which is not something I particularly enjoy. Also, Kirino employs many time jumps in this novel, which on one hand, is necessary for this type of story, but on the other, makes it difficult to emotionally connect with the characters. However, once I finally passed the first 10 or so pages things got easier, the story took off and in the end I read the book in two days.  

Even though this was supposed to be a contemporary retelling, if not for the usage of modern words, I'd have thought that I was reading a real, ancient myth. The Goddess Chronicle is the "retelling of the ancient Japanese myth of Izanami and Izanagi". It's also the story of two sisters, Namima and Kamikuu and a young man called Mahito. A powerful story about love, betrayal and revenge. 
My name is Namima - 'Woman-Amid-the-Waves'. I am a miko. Born on an island far, far to the south, I was barely sixteen when one night I died.
These are the opening lines of the book. From there we follow Namima as she tells us her story, and how her fate lead her to the Realm of the Dead, to Izanami. I have to say I got really invested in Namima's life. Her short life was filled with cruel twists and betrayals, I really felt for her.
I looked down at my body, stained with the black water, and wondered what kind of pain a goddess had to bear. She had to steal from the living, all the while in possession of her woman's heart. Was that the source of her pain? Or was it that while she was goddess who killed she was also a female charged with giving birth?

Hearing Izanami and Izanagi's "love story", I can't not feel sorry for Izanami, but I've also thought that she went too far in her revenge. In the end I felt more for Izanagi than for her. I guess I just couldn't relate enough to Izanami. The world, the role of females has changed so much since the ancient times, that while Namima and Izanami's story was interesting, it just didn't feel... relevant, at least not to me.

All in all, I enjoyed The Goddess Chronicle. It's the type of story that's hard to get into, but I am glad I pushed through the beginning. At first glance The Goddess Chronicle seems to be as different from Out as it gets, but Kirino's "fascination" with everything death-related (corpses, defiled, rotting bodies, murders, the underworld) -to my great enjoyment- is present in both works. 
The Goddess Chronicle takes an interesting approach to the myth of Izanami and Izanagi, and I'd definitely recommend this book to anyone looking for a unique retelling or interested in Japanese myths.

5 comments:

  1. I hope you enjoy it, Nishita! And I'm looking forward to read your thoughts on it :)

    ReplyDelete
  2. If you read it (Out or The Goddess Chronicle), let me know what you think! :)

    ReplyDelete
  3. I've always been avoiding Japanese books because if they're anything like Japanese movies, I wont sleep for weeks (I have no problem watching the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but if someone only mention The Grudge, I want to kill myself). But this book sounds good... I have a fascination with more dark books, I don't know why. Especially if it's raining outside. And I just Googled "Izanami and Izanagi" and I'm even more interested!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Mythological retellings are always interesting to check out, and this one sounds good - a lot of authors seem to add happier notes to their retellings, but it sounds like Kirino has kept it dark - as it should be!

    I may have to take a look at 'Out' now, as well...

    ReplyDelete
  5. This sounds really interesting. I like a really good myth reeling and Japanese mythology is so fascinating.

    ReplyDelete

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