Tuesday, June 3, 2014

[Review] Revenge by Yoko Ogawa

Rating: 4 stars
Genre: Short stories, Japanese Lit, Horror, Contemporary
Synopsis: Sinister forces draw together a cast of desperate characters in this eerie and absorbing novel from Yoko Ogawa.

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. Meanwhile, a surgeon’s lover vows to kill him if he does not leave his wife. Before she can follow-through on her crime of passion, though, the surgeon will cross paths with another remarkable woman, a cabaret singer whose heart beats delicately outside of her body. But when the surgeon promises to repair her condition, he sparks the jealousy of another man who would like to preserve the heart in a custom tailored bag. Murderers and mourners, mothers and children, lovers and innocent bystanders—their fates converge in a darkly beautiful web that they are each powerless to escape.

Macabre, fiendishly clever, and with a touch of the supernatural, Yoko Ogawa’s Revenge creates a haunting tapestry of death—and the afterlife of the living.

So because I saw that they recently added it to Netflix, I rewatched Kill Bill. "Revenge is a dish best served cold" indeed. However, the book isn't really about revenge. Certainly there are characters that serve it up real cold, but the theme is really about all those dark emotions that tend to manifest in humanity: despair, resentment, cynicism, obsession with the macabre, etc, etc. The title Revenge makes it seem like some sort of action thriller Kill Bill Uma Thurman style when it's not.

I know when I finished reading the first story "Afternoon at the Bakery" (doesn't Murakami have a story titled similarly, I can't recall), I was like "Oh, this is pretty dark and awesome, but what does it have to do with revenge?" Hence, don't have your heart set out on vengeance. I don't know what's wrong with the publishers who worked on this book, but the title and the cover make no sense with the actual content and it drives me nuts. It's a huge pet peeve of mine. They did the same thing to another Japanese novel (which I will get around to reviewing soon). I'm sure the publishers did it so it would sell better, but it is completely unnecessary and actually quite distasteful.

Yoko Ogawa's writing has very little flourish. It's sparse and a little deadpan. The woman gets to the point. A game I played while reading through the short stories was trying to guess, before other characters in the story clue me in, whether the speaker is a male or a female. It's seriously not easy. Kudos Yoko Ogawa for your genderless writing style.

Each story connects to the others in some sort of way, though the stories can be read out of order or stand alone, the full creepy effect isn't achieved if you don't read the whole thing. Here's a quotation that sets the tone for the rest of the stories. From the first short "Afternoon at the Bakery" about a mother grieving over her murdered son:

"The door 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 had...so I took a deep breath, curled myself into a ball, and slowly worked my way inside. As the door closed, all lights vanished. I could no longer tell whether my eyes were open or shut, and I realized it made no difference in here. The walls of the refrigerator were still cool. Where does death come from?"

Eerie right? There's a story about a woman who grows carrots that look like hands, a torture museum, a woman whose heart comes out of her chest, etc. It's all very unusual and a little unsettling. Overall I give it four stars. I think it is a splendid book that anyone interested in the macabre should definitely take a look at.

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