I have read Yoko Ogawa’s previous novels and while I liked them (The Housewife and the Professor, The Diving Pool), they don’t strike me as particularly memorable. I found the premise for Hotel Iris interesting but the actual book was unfortunately less so.
But I did enjoy Ogawa’s new book Revenge very much. Each of the 11 “dark tales” here is linked to another and are weaved together through a series of recurring characters, plots and images. The book starts off with a tale of a woman who has wandered into a bakery looking for a cake to celebrate her dead child’s birthday*. Its unassuming tone sets the overall mood and style; and as though we’ve been primed to expect the quiet sinister, the stories here never seem overly incredulous even if its limited roster of characters encounters mutated carrots, a museum of torture and a Bengal tiger.
The association/link between stories is done well, and for most part, it is apparent yet subtle. Each tale introduces a character who enjoys some time in the limelight, and then in turn, informs and adds dimension to a subsequent tale. Timelines collapse, characters overlap. I was mostly in a state of equal parts comprehension and confusion when reading the book. It is not a bad thing.
Some stories are inevitably stronger than others, but the dark brilliance of Revenge is better glimpsed when read as a whole anyway. This will make for a great read for an evening with oneself.
* The first story reminded me of Raymond Carver’s A Small Good Thing. A bakery and a dead boy make for good stories, it does seem.