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The Diving Pool: Three Novellas Paperback – Jan 22 2008
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From Publishers Weekly
In this first book-length translation into English, Japanese author Ogawa's three polished tales demonstrate her knack for a crafty, suspenseful hook. Each is narrated in the listless, emotionally remote voice of a young woman, such as the high schooler of the title story whose infatuation with her foster brother, Jun, prompts her to obsessively observe his diving practice. As the daughter of religious parents who run an orphanage, Aya feels alienated from the workings of the so-called Light House and finds an outlet for her frustration in romantic fantasy about Jun as well as in tormenting—shockingly—an orphan baby. The underhandedly creepy Dormitory is narrated by a Tokyo wife who begins nursing the ailing, armless one-legged manager at her old college dormitory. The manager's increasingly alarming tale of love for one of the renters, now vanished, enthralls the wife. Pregnancy Diary offers a bit of levity, narrated by a young unmarried woman whose rage toward her pregnant sister take the form of cooking her grapefruit jam prepared from fruit treated with a chromosome-altering chemical. Ogawa's tales possess a gnawing, erotic edge. (Feb.)
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“Yoko Ogawa is able to give expression to the most subtle workings of human psychology in prose that is gentle yet penetrating.” ―Kenzaburo Oe, Nobel Prize-winning author of A Personal Matter
“Three beautifully-drawn and genuinely eerie stories. Each one builds an image that you can't quite shake out of your mind.” ―Aimee Bender, author of The Girl in the Flammable Skirt
“What a strange and compelling little volume this is. Yoko Ogawa's fiction is like a subtle, psychoactive drug. Long after you read it, The Diving Pool will remain with you, shifting your vision, eroding your composure, raising questions about even the most seemingly conventional people you encounter. Her gift is to both reveal and preserve the mystery of human nature.” ―Kathryn Harrison, bestselling author of The Kiss
“Ogawa is original, elegant, very disturbing. I admire any writer who dares to work on this uneasy territory--we're on the edge of the unspeakable. The stories seem to penetrate right to the heart of the world and find it a cold and eerie place. There are no narrative tricks, but the stories generate a surprising amount of tension. You feel as if you've touched an icy hand.” ―Hilary Mantel, author of Beyond BlackSee all Product Description
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Diving Pool, written nearly a quarter century earlier, provides a context for Ms. Ogawa’s trajectory as a writer. It offers three novellas that start out gently and gradually build in intensity while maintaining their dreamlike state.
In the first, a truculent teen named Aya is obsessed with her younger foster brother, Jun, a diver. As the “only child who is not an orphan” in the orphanage run by her sanctimonious parents, Aya is teeming with resentment…which eventually plays out in near-tragic cruelty to a little girl. Aya is eventually deprived of the illusion of Jun’s comfort: “If he had attacked me outright, I might have been able to defend myself. Instead, he exposed my secret as if offering himself to me.”
Pregnancy Diary, the second of the three, also presents an emotionally detached narrator (as do many of the tales in Revenge). Like the stories in Revenge, food is focal point. When the unnamed narrator’s sister recovers from several months of early pregnancy nausea, the narrator sadistically begins feeding her sister huge quantities of grapefruit jam. “She ate spoonful after spoonful. Her protruding belly made her look almost arrogant as she stood there by the stove, pouring the sticky globs of fruit down her throat. As I studies the last puddles of jam trembling slightly at the bottom of the pan, I wondered whether PWH could really destroy chromosomes.”
Lastly, in Dormitory, a wife – who will soon be joining her husband in Sweden – helps her young out-of-town cousin secure a room in her old college dormitory. There she becomes reacquainted with the manager, a dying triple amputee with one leg. As she becomes drawn into his mad world, the nightmare begins to engulf her.
These novellas are haunting and certainly set the stage for Yoko Ogawa’s later work with three alienated “watchers” whose emotions simmer beneath the surface.