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The Diving Pool: Three Novellas Paperback – Jan 22 2008

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 19 reviews
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
Off the Deep End March 18 2008
By Crazy Fox - Published on
Format: Paperback
When in doubt, start at the beginning. It only makes sense then that the first book-length translation of fiction by Ogawa Yoko should include three short stories (or "novellas" [sic]) from the years 1990 and 1991, around the time her writing career was just kicking in. And while showing traces of a new writer just getting her bearings in the Japanese literary world, all three stories really stick with you. "The Diving Pool" and "Pregnancy Diary" are quietly chilling and enormously disquieting in their unsentimental and frank exploration of the streak of wanton cruelty and stifled but simmering resentment lurking in the psyches of ordinary, everyday people--a minister's teenage daughter with a girlhood crush and a part-time worker living with her pregnant sister and brother-in-law. Like a good writer, Ogawa shows rather than tells. She is incredibly adroit at using sensual data to get her point across and move the tale along, and the sicky-sweet and sometimes stomach-churning array of tastes, smells, and textures she weaves into her narrative communicates volumes to the attentive reader and lures them inexorably into a virtual synesthetic experience not so welcome in the final analysis.

After traipsing through the heart of darkness in humdrum urban Tokyo with these first two stories, you're then easily faked out by "Dormitory," which seems to be falling in the same direction but then throws you for a loop. An offbeat little sketch of a tale, not a single element is jarringly implausible in a discernibly empirical sense and yet the total effect is nonetheless unmistakably surreal. In this as well as a few recognizably typical tropes (inexplicable disappearance, for instance), it could almost be read as a homage to or parody of Murakami Haruki. And yet one can't shake the sense that Ogawa is pursuing similar themes of alienation and resentment in a slightly different register here in a way all her own.

As fiction goes, these are not great masterpieces, it must be said. There is something just a bit naggingly unsatisfying and unconvincing about each story, and the exaggerated cruelty Ogawa depicts seems just a tad over the top, as if she's maybe relying on shock value to make some waves. That said, these works show the enormous promise of an up-and coming author who has since established herself securely, and as such they should make quite a splash this side of the Pacific as well.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Unfettered, graceful, seductive, soft, and simple March 20 2008
By Jamie S. Rich - Published on
Format: Paperback
I have been dying for some more Ogawa ever since I read two of her short stories in The New Yorker over two years ago and instantly fell for her prose. A novel that was supposed to come out last year never arrived, and it's been one long tease.

Ogawa writes with unfettered, graceful prose that is seductive in its softness and simplicity, lending even more shock value to her dark subjects. In the title story, a young girl who grew up in the orphanage run by her parents has grown obsessed with the only boy to ever live there long enough to reach high-school age, and her unfulfilled passions start to emerge in acts of cruelty directed at the home's newest and youngest member. It's disturbing without being exploitative and grotesque.

Amidst the calm writing are often wonderful images, such as a snow storm inside the house or lines like "He reappears out of the foam, the rippling surface of the water gathering up like a veil around his shoulders...." Ahhhhh.

The second story, "The Pregnancy Diaries," tackles a somewhat commonplace subject in a unique way. A woman keeps a journal chronicling her sister's pregnancy, writing about it in terms evocative of science fiction and horror. Yet, Ogawa does so without straining the metaphor or using obvious language.

The final story, "Dormitory," details a woman's return to the spartan housing that was her college apartment, and the strange triple-amputee landlord that lives there. It's a mystery tale, a gothic horror story, and yet also a personal soliloquy. The final image shows her reaching directly in the complex patterns that connect all life.

Wonderful stuff. Deep, yet reads like a breeze. Loved it.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Cruelly Beautiful April 8 2009
By Harkius - Published on
Format: Paperback
A collection of disturbing stories by one of Japan's foremost contemporary writers, Yoko Ogawa mines the same headspace as Haruki Murakami and Natsuo Karino, with much different results. Whereas Haruki Murakami's protagonist, Boku, is typically a thirty-something, dissatisfied, disconnected, but generally good male, searching for he-knows-not-what, and Natsuo Kirino's violent female protagonists searching for power in the only ways that they know how. Yoko Ogawa's creations are cruel, but only because they can see no other options.

I notice from Crazy Fox's review that I am not the only one to connect Murakami and Ogawa. Crazy Fox suggests, "a few recognizably typical tropes (inexplicable disappearance, for instance), it could almost be read as a homage to or parody of Murakami Haruki. And yet one can't shake the sense that Ogawa is pursuing similar themes of alienation and resentment in a slightly different register here in a way all her own," which I heartily agree with. I disagree, though, that the endings are unconvincing or that the cruelty herein is exaggerated. I think that the characters in this book (Aya, the unnamed part-time worker, and the triple amputee), are desperately reaching out to the world around them, perhaps in the only way that they can. As cheindemer suggests in a review largely identical to Yoko Ogawa's Wikipedia article, "her characters often don't seem to know why they're doing what they are," but this is precisely the point. They don't understand their cruelty. They don't understand why they can't reach out with love, and why their attempts to do so are rebuffed, or meaningless. Instead, they must reach out, cruelly and maliciously, to feel that connection, because perhaps only in this fashion can the devastatingly deep crevasses between us be crossed in these tableaux.

One reviewer, Jack M. Walter, suggests that, "[Yoko] Ogawa is certainly no Natsuo Karino." I certainly agree, and I couldn't be happier. Having read Real World by Karino, I must say that I find the disconnection between individuals that is arguably examined by the latter is much more reasonably considered here. Karino, at least in Real World, suggested that the disconnection between individuals has become so great that people will overlook practically anything in their desire to feel involved. Ogawa, on the other hand, suggests that people will DO practically anything in their desire to feel involved. The difference here is profound and manifest, making Ogawa's work have an immediate and beautiful impact that Karino is still striving for.

The stories in this collection are cruelly beautiful. The aesthetics are disturbingly wonderful. And the characters are chillingly lovable. They are human beings, desperately longing for a connection that they cannot feel. In all, Yoko Ogawa presents a horrible specter of humanity, one that may be all too real.


2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Slightly Twisted and Unnerving Short Stories Dec 5 2009
By ephemeral - Published on
Format: Paperback
I normally don't enjoy short stories or novellas, but having read some of Yoko Ogawa's other work, I decided I'd give this compilation of three stories a try. Ogawa did an excellent job of creating three unique and slightly twisted stories. While each story felt complete, they all had a strange sense of the bizarre that left me with a definite sense of ambiguity. One thing I particularly appreciated was the insular and spartan nature of the stories. Each contained only a few locations, a minimal number of characters (3 in Pregnancy Diary, 3 in Dormitory, and a handful in The Diving Pool), and absolutely no extraneous interactions. With so little interactions between the protagonists and the outside world, Ogawa made it easy to question if the narrators' accounts of the story are truly accurate.

Of the three stories, I thought The Diving Pool was by far the best. However, the other two stories were compelling, if not quite as effective. Given the short length of the stories (about 50 pages each), you can finish the entire collection in a few hours. I'd strongly recommend making the investment in time and money to read this book.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Wish there was more! April 1 2008
By Nicole Del Sesto - Published on
Format: Paperback
I am finding myself completely falling in love with Japanese writing. I thought it was just Haruki Murakami, but as I start to expand my horizons, I'm finding more new authors to devour.

I found these stories beautifully written, and I wish there had been more. They are dark and haunting and the author succeeds brilliantly at creating a mood.

The back says that this is the first major English translation of this author, and I will definitely be hoping for more.

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