My friends often tease me about my love of Japanese literature; labelling it ‘weird, strange and kooky’ (how dragons, vampires and werewolves are normal and quaint in comparison escapes me). I enjoy it, but it’s not always the happiest genre to read as many works combine the everyday with the surreal and the less desirable side of human nature. Yoko Ogawa is an expert in this – I found Hotel Iris to be the antithesis of Fifty Shades of Grey, combining submission with subversiveness and an unsettling undercurrent. If you enjoyed any of Yoko Ogawa’s previous books, you’ll enjoy Revenge.
Ogawa is a master of the short story genre, combining sparse prose with an unsettling, eerie feeling that runs through the entire book. She can capture a scene in just a few words and your mind runs away with the rest, filling in the blanks to create extraordinary from the ordinary. For example, why would someone house kiwi fruit in an unused bank? Why do hand-shaped carrots turn red when you scrub them? Why does someone give away tomatoes spilled at a fatal accident? Why would you wait at a bakery for hours to be served?
Ogawa doesn’t answer the questions she writes about, but provides just enough detail for the reader to make the connections between the characters and the odd events. For example, the woman waiting at the bakery is mourning the death of her son and the reason for her patience is that she always buys a strawberry shortcake on his birthday. The way that Ogawa links motifs, actions and characters through each of the eleven tales is also a sight to behold. I would have loved to see her planning of this book – there are so many parts where I thought, ‘Aha! That must be related to the writer who was living in the apartment across from the carrot growing lady, who turned out to-‘ etc etc. Don’t think that this book sounds too highbrow and you won’t be able to remember – there’s enough hints to set you on the right track.
So what do all the motifs and symbols mean? Well, I left English class a long time ago and I’m not here for that. But I think that some of the symbols (such as the heart outside the chest) are reflective of human nature. You could analyse this book to death and still not ‘get it all’ or you could just enjoy Ogawa’s exceptional craft. Definitely worth a read, potentially even multiple ones to enjoy it more.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher - thank you. (However, my opinion is honest and my own).
An aspiring writer moves into a new apartment and discovers that her landlady has murdered her husband. Years later, the writer’s stepson reflects upon his stepmother and the strange stories she used to tell him. Yoko Ogawa weaves together a collection of short stories to create a haunting tapestry of death.
While this is a collection of short stories, Yoko Ogawa has managed to link each story with the last with recurring images and motifs. Apparently this is an old tradition from classical Japanese poetic collections. This is an eerie and very sinister novel but there is a real beauty within it too; not just in the writing, but in the imagery. Yoko Ogawa takes the reader on a clever journey of life and the afterlife.
I love what Ogawa does in this book, not only looking at the human psyche but plays with it a little to mess with the mind. From the very start of this book, I was planning my next dip into the world of Yoko Ogawa, I was hooked and I wanted to explore her writing more. It was just the combination of beauty with the sinister tones of the stories that really worked for me.
If this book is anything to go on, Yoko Ogawa is an amazing writer; showing the reader the beauty behind the dark and disturbing. Each story is macabre but the best part of the entire book is the way the stories link together and the beautiful tapestry Ogawa weaves. Highly recommended for lovers of short stories and the dark and disturbing, you won’t be disappointed by how Yoko Ogawa captures your attention.