Revenge: Eleven Dark Tales by Yoko Ogawa (2013)

Yoko Ogawa is a Japanese writer who has had several of her works translated into English. ‘Revenge’ is a collection of short stories published by Picador in 2013. The stories are interrelated in terms of characters and it repays re-reading to fully appreciate its subtleties. The stories are probably closest to Gothic in genre but they tend to be based in realistic settings, just with a supernatural or uncanny twist. They are probably closest to fellow Japanese writer, Murakami; they have also been compared to the films of David Lynch.

Often what the characters are going through remains inscrutable to others and connections are fleeting, as in the opening story, ‘Fruit Juice’ where a shy female student asks for the support of a classmate in meeting her estranged father and her emotions are only revealed subsequently when she smashes a lock to a storehouse and devours kiwi fruits. Appearances often prove deceptive too as in the case of ‘Lab Coats’ where a medical secretary is lulled by the beauty and seeming perfection of a co-worker until her nature is revealed through a violent action.

The stories entertain in their sometimes weird detail such as carrots found in the shape of human hands in ‘Old Mrs J’, but often at the centre of the stories there is also a tenderness such as the relationship between an uncle and nephew in ‘The Man Who Sold Braces’. Perhaps the most impressive story in my opinion is ‘Sewing for the Heart’ where a singer lives with her heart exposed outside her body and looks for a bag maker to make a covering for her heart. The singer eventually decides against using the bag and the bag maker exacts revenge by cutting her heart away. It seems to be a metaphor for the writer’s work of art and the audience’s appreciation and is a striking story.

I really loved these stories but could understand if they would not be everyone’s cup of tea. They are at times an unsettling fiction and some may prefer the writer’s touching novel, The Housekeeper and the Professor. It’s best to read the stories sequentially as different aspects of characters are revealed if read this way, through the details disclosed. I hope more of her work is translated as I find her work intriguing and unique.



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