Fantastic and very disturbing feminist noir about the pressures on four women who were once classmates at a prestigious Japanese high school: the unnamed narrator of most of the book, half-Japanese and half-white, who hates and is profoundly jealous of her monstrously beautiful sister, Yuriko; Yuriko, whose beauty attracts more attention than she can handle, leading her to modeling and prostitution both glamorous and seedy; Mitsuru, perfectly balanced and somehow lacking; and Kazue, smart but not as smart as the rest of her classmates, determined to fit in, half-aware and entirely in denial that determination will not make up for beauty or money. Yuriko and Kazue become street-corner prostitutes murdered by an undocumented Chinese immigrant; Mitsuru becomes the member of a religious cult and is imprisoned for her involvement in a mass murder.
Those aren't spoilers, they're all in the opening chapters. As the book unfolds, we learn more about Q High School and the terrible effects of rigidity, competition, and sexism, all filtered through several extremely unreliable narrators. I love and distrust the main, nameless narrator and her unwavering malevolence and spite. Many of the reviews focus on the book as an expose of the Japanese class system, which is accurate, but I found a lot of it painfully apt and familiar as a woman in another media-saturated society and also, oddly, as someone who went to an elite magnet high school with entrance by competitive exam.