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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Novellas portray prosaic yet disturbing lives

    Yoko Ogawa’s newly translated collection of novellas, “”The Diving Pool,”” presents three disturbing yet beautiful tales of modern Japan. Ogawa seems to be simultaneously interested in exploring the potential for cruelty in ordinary, even likeable people, and in creating unusual, often olfactory, imagery. This gives her writing an eerie quality that makes for tense but memorable reading.

    “”The Diving Pool””
    Yoko Ogawa – Picador
    List price:$13
    amazon.com
    4 stars

    In the title story we meet the complex teenage narrator, Aya, whose parents run an orphanage known as the Light House. As the only non-orphan living there, Aya envies the orphans and the simplicity of their situation, wishing that the extent of her dreams was to have parents, and perhaps because of this, she is cruel to one orphan in particular, enjoying listening to the small girl cry. Her quirks of character give the novella its charm and unease, keeping up the tension despite a lack of traditional, plot-driven excitement.

    In the second novella “”Pregnancy Diary,”” the narrator has a similar disconnect from normal human decency. When her sister becomes pregnant, the narrator cannot help but feel disgusted at the swelling tumor-like belly. Feeling that she cannot stand to see the pregnancy progress further, she spikes a vat of her sister’s favorite grapefruit jam with a chemical that attacks the hormones. Again, Ogawa pulls from her character a penchant for cruelty that disgusts but intrigues.

    “”Dormitory,”” the third novella, is the strangest of the book. A young woman stops in to visit her old college dormitory, a weird building its own energy and managed by a man with most of his limbs amputated. As the relationship between the woman and the manager grows stronger and more affectionate, she learns of a student who has recently disappeared. This student was a favorite of the manager, and as the woman finds out more about the disappearance, it begins to look more sinister. Yet Ogawa deftly prevents this story from falling under the category of mystery or horror by yanking it back to reality at the end.

    Ogawa’s work easily transcends the boundaries of Japanese fiction and draws readers in by hooking onto both the voyeuristic delight in all things cruel and the universal pleasure of beautiful language.

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