Revenge by Yoko Ogawa (Japan) – Eleven Dark Tales

RevengeWow! Those of you who have been reading this blog long enough to remember my post on Why People Don’t Read Short Stories may remember that they are something I usually savour, rarely devouring an entire collection in one sitting, but Yoko Ogawa breaks the mould and her newly published book Revenge is full of hooks and devices that stopped me putting it aside and saw me instead ploughing on to read one after the after.

Like a curious sea creature taking the glistening bait, after reading the first story, I dove into the next, caught in the deft grip of Ogawa’s clever and haunting narration, each story carrying the slimmest thread into the next, sufficient to keep the reader interested and more than that, inquisitive to continue and see what she would come up with next.

I first read Yoko Ogawa last year, attracted by her slim collection of three stories contained within The Diving Pool and then her novella The Housekeeper + The Professor, they are very different books, so I was interested in how this collection would compare.

tristes revancesShe has written prolifically over the years and much of her work has been translated into French, very little thus far in English, though perhaps that will change as her short stories are increasingly appearing in contemporary English language publications. The Nobel Prize winning author Kenzaburō Ōe when speaking about her work said:

‘Yoko Ogawa is able to give expression to the most subtle workings of human psychology in prose that is gentle yet penetrating.’

Revenge is an apt title, there are traces of it in every story, calculated revenge, obsessive revenge, inexplicable revenge and cold-blooded revenge. Each story exists on its own, but I read it like a novel, not wanting to pause between titles and feeling right from the end of the first story a tightness in the solar plexus and realisation that I had been holding my breath.

It’s not just the story, it’s awe at how she can write in such an engaging way, where very little actually happens, but we begin to understand more about what is going on in the mind of the character from all the little details she gives, creating a growing image in our own minds, just before she delivers the final blow. And even when we don’t know much about a particular character, someone on the periphery perhaps, not important to the story, chances are we are about to find out more about them in the next story. And so we read on to find out if we guessed right or if she will insert some other connection.

I share this from the blurb, which encapsulates something of these stories in a more concise manner than I ever could:

An aspiring writer moves into a new apartment and discovers that her landlady has murdered her husband. Years later, the writer’s stepson reflects upon his stepmother and the strange stories she used to tell him. Meanwhile, a surgeon’s lover vows to kill him if he does not leave his wife. Before she can follow-through on her crime of passion, though, the surgeon will cross paths with another remarkable woman, a cabaret singer whose heart beats delicately outside of her body. But when the surgeon promises to repair her condition, he sparks the jealousy of another man who would like to preserve the heart in a custom tailored bag. Murderers and mourners, mothers and children, lovers and innocent bystanders—their fates converge in a darkly beautiful web that they are each powerless to escape.

Ogawa is certainly not the first writer to do this, to infuse stories with their subtle threads and connections, Alice Hoffman does it with Blackbird House, Colum McCann did it with Let The Great World Spin and I believe Cloud Atlas (which I have not read) has something that makes it too, more like vaguely connected stories than a novel.

jigsawRevenge isn’t a complicated kind of clever though, there’s no need to question or ponder too deeply over it, the links are clear, but it will leave you wondering how she does it, how she maps out those stories and creates those links. It’s like a jigsaw puzzle with multiple subjects, the letters R E V E N G E scratched across the surface.

Note: This book was an Advance Reader Copy (ARC) provided by the publisher via NetGalley.

21 thoughts on “Revenge by Yoko Ogawa (Japan) – Eleven Dark Tales

  1. I must say I don’t read enough short stories. Guilty as charged, although I know there is something quite meaningful and engaging in them. This one sounds very interesting, especially that fabulous cover! Who wouldn’t be intrigued by it. Thanks for the post.


  2. Great review, Claire. It makes me want to read it. I will add this one to my list, for sure. I’m always trying to find books of short stories and it is not easy to find one I like. I love short stories.


    • I hope you do Julia, I don’t usually read them all in one sitting, but this book was different, just those small threads enough to make me want to go on and of course her heart-stopping quiet way of revealing the shocking truth!

      I’m in a short story mode at the moment, having just finished Ludmilla Petrashevskaya’s new collection which I review here and now onto Tove Jansson’s A Winter Book, travelling the world via stories.


  3. Sounds like an excellent collection. I don’t read as many short stories as I should, but when I do come across them I try to savor them as well. I’ll have to keep an eye out for this book (or one of Ogawa’s others). Certainly sounds like a treat.


    • Her stories are good and becoming more available than previously it seems, if you come across one of her books I am sure you won’t be disappointed, the novella which I reviewed here last year The Housekeeper and the Professor is also very good.

      Yes, I’m wondering how many times the kindle can support this needing to be rebooted before it dies, but then I do have a first edition, almost old fashioned already and as with everything they only improve with time and knowledge (kind of).


  4. Claire, it’s been a long time since I read a collection of stories. Your wonderful review of Ogawa’s latest work has piqued my interest and really, who isn’t captivated by the theme of revenge? I know I am! I think it will be interesting to see how she ties the stories together and discover the results of so many complicated twists!


  5. Hi, I arrived at your blog via your comment on JoV’s blog. I’m on the hold queue for Revenge and after reading your review, I can’t wait to read it!


    • Thanks for coming by and I hope you enjoy the collection, have you read any of her other work? Her short stories are something else indeed, but then her novella The Housekeeper and the Professor was quite different, though equally enjoyable. I have a feeling we are going to see more of her work, there is much left to be translated.


  6. I must read this collection. There is a whole skill to short story writing which differs from that of being a novellist – or, indeed, any other form of writing.

    Have you caught up, incidentally, with the news here in New Zealand – a box of Mansfield papers has been purchased by Turnbull and found to contain some hitherto unknown and apparently rather ‘dark’ work by her? I live in Wellington but haven’t had a chance to get across to their MS reading room to check it out for myself yet. I really should.


    • Oohh, no I hadn’t heard that news, I love it when that happens, I have really enjoyed reading the works of Irene Nemirovsky which was only discovered recently here in France.

      Coincidentally, I am currently reading a semi-autobiographical novel Elizabeth and her German Garden by Elizabeth von Armin (born Mary Annette Beauchamp), who was the cousin of Katherine Mansfield, I am trying to find out if they ever met, with their literary aspirations, one would think so.


  7. Pingback: 2014 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize Longlist « The Mookse and the Gripes

  8. Pingback: 2014 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize Shortlist | The Mookse and the Gripes

  9. Pingback: The Vegetarian by Han Kang tr. Deborah Smith #WITMonth – Word by Word

  10. Pingback: Trout, Belly Up by Rodrigo Fuentes (Guatemala) tr. Ellen Jones – Word by Word

  11. Pingback: The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa tr. Stephen Snyder – Word by Word

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s