There are some shocking passages in this collection of interwoven short stories from Yoko Ogawa but the one that has lingered longest in my mind is the one I unwittingly stumbled into first.
‘Afternoon at the Bakery’ is full of beauty, appealing to the senses with a sky that is a “cloudless dome of sunlight”, the gentle sounds of a woman knitting and a man making balloon animals, the sweet scent of vanilla in the bakery, two women talking softly, casually. One of the women has come to buy two strawberry shortcakes for her son’s birthday.
‘How old is he?’ asks her fellow customer.
“Six. He’ll always be six. He’s dead.”(4)
The three little sentences stunned me.
The reaction of the other woman is interesting, totally unconventional, and yet somehow fitting. And the glimpses we are given into the reconciliation of the bereaved woman with her grief are heart-wrenchingly believable.
‘Fruit Juice’ is a strange tale that I read twice but I am still not sure if the messages I took from it were intended by the author. “I could only watch and wait until she ate through her sadness” (23) led me to reflect on the debilitation of anorexia, bulimia and overeating but ‘Fruit Juice’ also has something to say about the passage of time and its effect on grief so that tears are finally released as “sadness was coming to her peacefully from the distant past.” (24)
Ogawa seems to have fun weaving the fabric of her stories from within and without so, for example, a mother’s death from an infection in the nose translates thus:-
“Until that woman came to live with us, a mother to me was no more than a metallic sensation in the back of my nose.” (41)
‘Broken Heart’ is almost too surreal for words: a heart that sits on the outside of a body, an obsessive bag-maker, and a dead hamster somehow all combine to tell a story, the point of which totally eludes me. I get an understanding of the literality of a broken heart but not enough for this piece to work for me.
There is some sublime writing. This from ‘Welcome to the Museum of Torture’:-
“But the air was stale, as though the room were holding its breath, and the only thing that moved was the light from the windows when the oak leaves fluttered outside.” (87)
‘The Man Who Sold Braces’ perfectly captures the romantic adventurousness of an uncle who materialises every so often and brightens up the mundane life of his nephew. But, ultimately, it is a sad story in a ‘cats in the cradle’ kind of way.
Kind of creepy, sometimes scary, occasionally downright weird, Revenge is a wildly thought-provoking work written, I believe, by someone who is no stranger to grief. Now that I come to think of it, the collection could just as easily have been given the title of Grief as Revenge.
Some reviews of interest:
For Rhoda Feng at the Huffington Post – ‘Reading Yoko Ogawa is akin to watching a film by David Lynch’
Stu at Winstons Dad – likens the collection to a Japanese puzzle box.
I agree with Lisa Hill when she writes in her review at ANZ LitLovers that the Revenge Collection does seem ‘Japanese’ in its preoccupations, despite not being overtly so in setting.
Ogawa, Yoko. Revenge, translated to English by Stephen Snyder, Harvill Secker, 2013.