Revenge by Yoko Ogawa

3 May, 2013


Revenge by Yoko Ogawa is a collection of interconnected short stories that are about modern Japan but heavily dosed with the twisted and macabre. I have only read one of her previous books, the wonderful The Housekeeper and the Professor which was a rather lovely and warm depiction of family in a slowly fracturing world, but I was aware that her other books were of a much darker and disturbing quality and was reluctant to read them. But I was drawn by the wonderful reception of her new book and the beautiful cover.

Subtitled Eleven Dark Tales, the collection starts with a grieving mother who waits at a bakery to buy a strawberry short cake for her son’s birthday every year even though she lost him six years ago. As she waits for the shop assistant, she is drawn to what looks like the distraught pâtisserie chef speaking on the phone in the kitchen beyond. Not much happens but Ogawa sets the tone of her collection, one that combines an unsettling chill together with a sense of incompleteness. You wonder where she is taking you.

Although not as disturbing as I expected, I did find a number of stories got under my skin and left me feeling uneasy, especially Old Mrs. J (strange), Sewing for the Heart (grotesque) and Tomatoes and the Full Moon (spooky). My favourites were Welcome to the Museum of Torture and the two stories that followed closely which were more poignant and with a hint of fairytale and involves a Museum of Torture, a Bengal Tiger and a man with an interesting past which includes a dose of hoarding (the modern scourge). An intriguing combination.

Initially, I was a little disappointed at the brevity of the stories: the characterisation seemed brash and stifled, the emotions were dealt with in an offhand way. I was unsure about this collection and how it was going to proceed. But slowly, Ogawa begins to tie little sections together, mentioning a character here or an event from a previous story there until it comes full circle. She does this so seamlessly that it takes you a while to realise where you had encountered this snippet of information without taking you away from the story you are currently reading. And when the connections start making sense, you find yourself immersing into this dark, macabre ordinariness in which she so excels. Pretty impressive stuff.

I do recommend that you follow the order of the stories set in the contents as they follow a very loose but definite order and will ultimately make more sense towards the end. You’ll finish with a sense of wonder and a need to re-read the collection.

I would like to thank Harvill Secker for kindly sending me a copy of Revenge to review.

11 Responses to “Revenge by Yoko Ogawa”

  1. Thank you for this review – it sounds like a wonderful collection and I’m going to add it to my list. One question – did you know who translated the book?

  2. Sounds good. I’m sure you’ll have read Rashomon – that book is exquisite and I like the Japanese approach to writing if such a generalisation can be made.

  3. winstonsdad Says:

    I found a couple disturbing ,but loved the way she kept motifs cropping up from other stories thus connecting the coilection so well ,all the best stu

  4. Tony Says:

    I’ll get to this one day, but I’m still sulking because the publisher promised me a copy and then never sent it…

    …especially annoyed as I was running a challenge promoting Japanese literature at the time 😉

  5. Colleen Says:

    I love, love, love this collection! I found the connections between the stories even more numerous and compelling on my second read-through as well.

    Hotel Iris is really, really disturbing…but also beautifully written and elegant and perfect…Ogawa has a real talent for this strange combination of content and style. I think she might be a genius.

  6. Kristen M. Says:

    I’m hoping to begin this one soon. I’ve also only read The Housekeeper and the Professor so it will be an interesting transition for me as well.

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