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4.0 out of 5 starsWonderful Collection Terrible Title Translation
Reviewed in the United States on December 8, 2019
I'm not sure why the English language version of this short-story collection was re-titled REVENGE. None of the stories have anything to do with that which is best served cold. The Japanese title is KAMOKU NA SHIGAI, MIDARA NA TOMURAI, which roughly translated means "A Quiet Corpse, An Erotic Funeral", which is a much better description of this exquisitely creepy collection of moody and dark, interconnected little stories. Yoko Ogawa can do in 11 pages what Stephen King does in 50 - make that intermittent tapping noise in the next room unbearably unnerving and that rustling sound outside uncomfortably worrisome. I put this book down several times and walked around the house checking the doors and windows. The stories are scary because they are an exploration of those little moments that happen in the middle of a boring, tedious day when suddenly you realize that the world you thought you inhabited is multilayered and nuanced and there are hidden little reality traps that we occasionally fall through and suddenly we are face-to-face with something wormy and earthy and ancient and mad. Ogawa's horror comes from the everyday. Her horror is something that can be glimpsed from the corner of your eye, in that dark corner of the garage or at night just outside the window or in the grainy images of an ultrasound or in a fruit orchard in autumn. The reader can smell and hear the horror in her words. The horror is tactile and involves all your senses. The Japanese do horror very well, in their fiction and their movies, but the other emotion at play here and in much of really good Japanese fiction is sorrow. While reading this wonderfully scary and entertaining collection, I was moved to deliberate on the closeness and interconnected nature of those two things. Many of the short stories in REVENGE (God I hate that title) occur over the course of several hours and the actions of the characters happen quickly but the overall narrative is slow and methodical, almost languid and the reader catches glimpses of lost loves and dead children and the consequences of mistakes made. The tension builds gradually and inevitably and inexorably our worst fears are realized. That's horror and the sorrow that sometimes precedes it but almost always accompanies it. The stories are interconnected, but each stands alone as its own work and sometimes the effort to tie two stories together seems forced and unnecessary. This is a great introduction to the wonderful genre of popular female Japanese fiction authors for anyone that hasn't yet read anything by Banana Yoshimoto or Ryu Murakami or Natsuo Kirino. This is a quick and satisfying read - just don't do it late at night.
5.0 out of 5 starsA Wonderful Read just before Halloween
Reviewed in the United States on October 18, 2014
These stories are subtly interconnected with stories of strangers and mysterious deaths. After reading a few of the stories you will think you have the pattern figured out but No you won't because the stories are unpredictable. In each story it is impossible to tell what particular twist the story will take, i.e., the last hour of a tiger's life; a hamster in a trashcan; and a strange museum full of torture devices. Although all the stories cross in one way or another there is no way to predict which way they are going to go.
Although I did not like this book as well as her "The Housekeeper and the Professor," which is my favorite novel to date; I did enjoy these stories immensely and found them particularly satisfying for the month of October before Halloween. Ogawa does use supernatural forces in her stories that are as dark as Poe's and not quite as puzzling as Borges' stories, she has a voice all her own which is delightful. Although Ogawa's characters, sometimes scenes and other bits overlap from story to story, their connections are not easy to connect. She shows us through her prose the perverse side of humanity.
This is a delightful book and I can think of no better time than fall in which to read it. In this book she doesn't confine her horror to a haunted house or a graveyard but it shows how it surrounds us all the time.
1.0 out of 5 starsTales for elementary school kids around the campfire
Reviewed in the United States on June 26, 2020
If you need a book of short stories to read to your kids on camping trips -- stories that may make them grin and have momentarily wide eyes but yet won't cause them to lose even a minute of sleep -- then this is the book for you. The book has stories that are mercifully brief, easy to follow, use language that's within the range of 12 yr olds, and, like fast food, and are so forgettable that they'll be out of your system within a few hours.
This book is well-written, and the connections between stories, while merely the connection made by a spiderweb between branches of different trees, added an odd sort of fascination, even a touch of horror to the experience. But the last story darn near ruined the whole thing. I wish I had skipped it.
4.0 out of 5 starsA nice collection of twisted tales.
Reviewed in the United States on October 9, 2019
My brother recommended this book to me as something I might enjoy as a fan of Japanese horror and weird stories. I wouldn’t call this book horror, but there are plenty of unsettling elements in this collection of interwoven stories. Not all the stories are of equal quality (or deal with revenge in the slightest), but the weaker stories don’t overstay their welcome.
5.0 out of 5 starsA Strange Book With Lovely Dark Turnings
Reviewed in the United States on May 3, 2015
I loved the quiet of these stories; the way each circumnavigated to include a scene from a previous tale. I read it all in one great gulp, enjoying that nature was incorporated to add to the mix of dread and strangeness that permeates this work as it meanders its journey through the macabre. At the conclusion of the last offering, I felt that I knew each character intimately, as though as I ventured into the next room, turned down a dark hallway or walked toward a shiny dark wood, dappled with sunlight, or shrouded in fog, the characters would appear quietly before me, take my hand, and nod toward the next crooked path. There is always something waiting.
Reviewed in the United States on September 7, 2020
This collection of about a dozen interrelated short stories is wonderful. Half the fun is figuring out what is going on in the stories, the other half is connecting the dots to characters in the other stories.
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on December 3, 2019
This quickly became one of my favourite novels ever. First and foremost, Ogawa's prose is so elegant and succinct. The book is simply a joy to read. I actually re-read it again immediately after finishing it since I was so addicted to her style. That was a first for me!
The stories themselves are mesmerising. They are all terribly sad tales, and rather than going for "straight up horror", Ogawa blends the frightening things that lurk in everyday people's minds with traditional scares. Each of them connect to each other directly or indirectly, sometimes it's obvious, but sometimes it's so subtle that you'll only realise if you're paying attention. In this way, it's very satisfying to "connect the dots", so to speak. In a highly unusual turn for a novel with multiple narrators across different stories, none of the characters have names! Despite this, the story still draws you in and stays with you. In fact, it made it even better for me since it prevents you from "connecting" with the characters in a way. The atmosphere is so, so unique.
I really felt compelled to write this review since I think this is a criminally underappreciated book. The Diving Pool, a collection of three novellas by Ogawa, is another good choice after picking this one up.
4.0 out of 5 starsBeautiful, brittle, gracefully ugly short stories
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on August 27, 2020
Yoko Ogawa is one of Japan’s most read contemporary novelists and is the author of The Memory Police, a lyrical dystopia which was shortlisted for the International Booker Prize. Since 1988 she has published more than twenty works of fiction and nonfiction, and has won every major Japanese literary award.
Revenge is a collection of connected short stories subtitled ‘Eleven Dark Tales’. Each story is its own little character portrait introducing either the theme or character of the next, creating a connective tissue which keeps you moving from story to story.
Yoko Ogawa weaves a dark and beautiful narrative that pulls together a seemingly disconnected cast of characters – doctors, hairdressers, elderly men and women, torturers, lovers, adulterers, the jilted, the lost and a Bengal tiger.
‘The desires of the human heart know no reason or rules’, she says.
We meet a woman buying a birthday cake for a long-dead child, a nightclub singer with her living heart on the outside of her body, a room full to the brim of kiwi fruit, dead hamsters and fake novelists.
Yoko Ogawa has an anatomist’s skill of showing such beauty in ugliness that you cannot help but be drawn to it, like blood spatter on snow. Her writing style has a brittle grace, beautifully translated by her long-time collaborator Stephen Snyder.
In an interview, Yoko Ogawa said, ‘Stories are necessary for us to be able to come to terms with our fears and sorrows, and the one question that cannot be answered logically. That is, all lives end in death. And finding something in nothing, which is essentially what telling a story is, is the only way to understand the existence of death’.
I once read an article about the cherry blossom season in Japan and almost untranslatable phrase 'mono no aware' which refers to the bittersweet realisation of the ephemeral nature of all things. It is the awareness that everything is temporary, that youth, romance, love should be cherished because they do not last. Their brevity and impermanence is their beauty, like a short story.
I heartily recommend spending an afternoon in the company of Yoko Ogawa. ‘Sometimes, I imagine,’ she writes, ‘in an unknown town far away, in a therapy or hospital room, someone in a broken, hopeless state, is verbalising the maze he or she has wandered into. Sitting alone in the dark, not knowing their words even mean anything, they just talk.
I’m sitting in the corner of that dark room, writing everything down. In order to explain that the story they need to help their lost soul exists in the world, I’m jotting everything down, one letter at a time.
I’ve just recently gotten back into reading after years of neglect and this was a read like no other. I am one to lose attention very quickly but this book gripped mine from start to finish. It’s so beautifully written and it’s received rave reviews from fellow friends whom I’ve recommended this book to. Highly recommend you buy this book. It’s a short read but worth it.
5.0 out of 5 starsLoved this book, the translation is brilliant
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on September 3, 2020
I loved this book. It is one of the best short story collections I have read. They are all connected in some way and are so vivid. I will read more by this author. I am going to try to read more Japanese authors, there are quite a few in translation now. A wonderful collection.
5.0 out of 5 starsGreat purchase, and will look into buying more of ...
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on September 30, 2016
Lovely collection of short stories.
I'm fast becoming a fan of Japanese writers as their style of writing is so different from the type of stories I'm used to in English books - I find the stories to be so much more unique, and even surreal at times, depending on which author you're reading.
Yoko Ogawa's Revenge is a lovely little collection of slightly strange, and at times eerie short stories that seem unrelated, but hints at an overall, deeper connection at different point within the book. It's a quick read (might take a day, if you're a fast reader), and though I tend not to read a book again for a while after I've read them, I find myself coming back to this one from time to time, to revisit certain stories.
Great purchase, and will look into buying more of this authors work in the future.