Book Review: The Diving Pool by Yoko Ogawa

“I'm sure it must have been even more wonderful then, when we were young and knew nothing about the pain of growing up.”

Yay, finally another book review! I picked up The Diving Pool by Yoko Ogawa on one of my book-buying jaunts with the lovely Kirsty from The Literary Sisters. These happen quite often and luckily, I always seem to come away with some brilliant pieces of literature.

The Diving Pool is a collection of three novellas, all just as creepy and unsettling as the last. The collection has the typical tone that comes along with most modern Japanese fiction - if you don't know what I mean, trust me, it's a thing. A lot of modern Japanese literary fiction (or at least all that I have read) has a very dark, almost soul-sucking quality to it. I'm not even joking. This collection is no different; you will be creeped out, disturbed, and possibly emotionally scarred. I promise however, that it's damn worth it.

I don't want to go too much in to the plots of each of the novellas as I truly believe this will take away from your experience of reading. However, I will mention that they include the following: an incestuous infatuation, a (phantom?) pregnancy, and an old guy living alone in a tattered university dormitory. I actually think that the book's blurb does a good job of intriguing without spoiling - here it is:

From Akutagawa Award-winning author Yoko Ogawa comes a haunting trio of novellas about love, fertility, obsession, and how even the most innocent gestures may contain a hairline crack of cruel intent.

A lonely teenage girl falls in love with her foster brother as she watches him leap from a high diving board into a pool--a peculiar infatuation that sends unexpected ripples through her life. A young woman records the daily moods of her pregnant sister in a diary, taking meticulous note of a pregnancy that may or may not be a hallucination--but whose hallucination is it, hers or her sister's? A woman nostalgically visits her old college dormitory on the outskirts of Tokyo, a boarding house run by a mysterious triple amputee with one leg. Hauntingly spare, beautiful, and twisted, The Diving Pool is a disquieting and at times darkly humorous collection of novellas about normal people who suddenly discover their own dark possibilities. 

I found the writing in this collection to be surprisingly beautiful, especially considering my dubious encounter with another of Stephen Snyder's translations, Natsuo Kirino's Out. Ogawa's prose is extremely ethereal, almost implying magical realism, but it intends to keep you grounded in real life which I found very unique and refreshing. I would like to point out though that if you like your stories to have a concrete ending then this collection will definitely not be for you. Each novella ends, leaving you quite astounded, rather like a deer in headlights. I found this to be very effective given the subject matters but I know how many people will find this quite annoying. You could say that the ethereal writing is a perfect match for Ogawa's wispy, smokey story lines.  

“Still, from time to time, I attempted analogies: the icy murmur of a fountain in winter when a coin sinks to the bottom; the quaking of the fluid in the inner ear as you get off a merry-go-round; the sound of the night passing through the palm of your hand still gripping the phone after your lover hangs up... But I doubted these would help anyone understand."

As mentioned, the tone is very typical of the genre, but the novellas are slim enough to only provide short exposure, so perfect for a novice. I would definitely suggest picking this up if you're in the mood for something different and if you're a beginner when it comes to Japanese literature, then this might actually be the perfect place to start. 

I'm really glad that I started here with Ogawa's works and I'm now just a little too excited to jump in to some of her more popular titles such as The Housekeeper and the Professor or Revenge.

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