Book Review: Revenge: Eleven Dark Tales by Yoko Ogawa

Revenge

Revenge: Eleven Dark Tales by Yoko Ogawa

My Rating: ★★★☆☆

This short story collection was a delightfully creepy read. 

I picked this up after reading Ogawa’s The Housekeeper and the Professor. I was so moved by that book—it was one of my favorite reads in 2017—that I hardly went through the synopsis of this one before buying it.

It turns out that the tone of this collection is wildly different from The HousekeeperThe Housekeeper was a slow-moving, poignant exploration of the offbeat relationship between a brilliant, amnesiac math professor and his housekeeper and her son. Revenge, on the other hand, is a dark, gothic read, made more chilling with the way the most gruesome events are described in a matter-of-fact tone. (I should have guessed how different they are from the covers, but it didn’t really register until I started reading. But gothic’s fine, too.) 

In this collection, we meet a woman whose heart is situated outside her chest and the bagmaker who becomes obsessed with it; a lover who commits murder; a curator of a museum of torture. We meet characters whose stories seem less dark, but who seem to be filled with unease from waiting for something unpleasant to happen. All this is rendered in crisp, clean prose. Ogawa does a good job of avoiding melodramatic horror; it’s in the very understatement of the horrific that allows its impact to be truly felt. 

Another thing I liked about this—and what other people have been raving about, too—is that all the short stories are set in the same universe, so we meet characters or hear about snippets of events from the other stories as well. Very sly device. It’s hard sometimes to read short story collections because they’re harder to “get into”; you don’t have as much time to know the characters and ease into the setting like you do in a novel. But because all these short stories are set in the same universe, there’s this frisson of familiarity you feel when you jump into the next story, because there’s an element in it that’s been “foreshadowed” in the one before. 

Despite all this, I have some reservations about the book. Some of the stories left me confused, because they seemed plotless. I don’t expect a story that can be understood neatly (you know, like those stories they made us dissect in high school), but really, some stories start off one way and then end in a manner that is completely unforeshadowed by the first half. This is why I took so long to finish it. If I can’t make sense of the story, I’m less likely to pick it up again soon. Also, there were a number of authorial self-inserts. Not sure if that’s the right term, but what I mean is the author seemed to use herself as the persona a number of times, including referencing her works. I’m not sure what she’s trying to do with that device—is she trying to blur the line between author and persona in fiction???—but it struck me as too gimmicky.

Still, I did like it overall. There are some stories I would read again, like “Afternoon in the Bakery” and “Old Mrs. J”. I also appreciated how Ogawa writes creepy female characters. Literature is saturated with creepy male characters, so it’s nice to see well-written creepy female characters for a change. 

3 solid stars. Would recommend to anyone craving a little darkness.

Read from January 2 – November 4, 2018 | Goodreads Account

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