Yoko Ogawa’s book, Revenge, is a collection of ‘eleven dark tales’. They are so dark, in fact, that halfway through I abandoned the book. There was no point, I felt, in immersing myself so completely in stories which dealt with the bizarre, the grotesque, or inevitable death. More troubling than the darkness was the accompanying sorrow for, to me, each story had an oppressive kind of grief underlying it. Here is a section from the first story:
Afternoon at the Bakery
The door that would not open no matter how hard you pushed, no matter how long you pounded on it. The screams no one heard. Darkness, hunger, pain. Slow suffocation. One day it occurred to me that I needed to experience the same suffering he (my son) had.
First, I turned off our refrigerator and emptied it: last night’s potato salad, ham, eggs, cabbage, cucumbers, wilted spinach, yogurt, some cans of beer, pork–I pulled everything out and threw it aside. The ketchup spilled, eggs broke, ice cream melted. But the refrigerator was empty now, so I took a deep breath, curled myself into a ball, and slowly worked my way inside.
As the door closed, all light vanished. I could no longer tell whether my eyes were open or shut, and I realized that it made no difference in here. The walls of the refrigerator were still cool. Where does death come from?
This collection of short stories is quite different from Ogawa’s book The Housekeeper and The Professor, which I loved for its gentle portrayal of an unconventional family. Yet I suppose the bridge was built from that novel to this collection with her novel Hotel Iris. I wonder if this is where Ogawa’s writing will continue to take us, deep within the dark and horrifying. The stuff that in small quantities effectively chills our spine, but in greater doses induces despair.