The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

A thread of the grotesque, the macabre and the mournful runs through Yoko Ogawa's 'Revenge'

  • Print

"Revenge: Eleven Dark Tales" (Picador), by Yoko Ogawa, translated by Stephen Snyder

They are the scenes of ordinary life: a mother stopping by the neighbourhood bakery to purchase two strawberry shortcakes for her son's birthday, an aspiring writer toiling over a manuscript in a spare apartment, a young woman preparing dinner for her beau, a woman spying on her husband's mistress.

Yet in Yoko Ogawa's story collection, "Revenge: Eleven Dark Tales," those ordinary exteriors are merely brittle shells that crack open to reveal darkness, death and despair. Woven through the 11 interconnected tales is a thread of the grotesque, the macabre, the mournful.

The mother's errand turns out to be a paean to inconsolable loss. The writer emerges as an unhinged character that evokes both love and pity. The amorous young woman finds herself entwined in both a murder scene and a museum dedicated to torture.

Ogawa, a prolific author whose work has appeared in The New Yorker and Harper's Magazine, laces her stories with gruesome murders, exotic animals and peculiar events. Her language is both spare and searingly precise, crystallizing the details of everyday existence and capturing the unexpected shock of the bizarre.

In "Sewing for the Heart," for example, the narrator is a bag-maker who has been contracted to create a purse for a beating heart. The client is a cabaret singer who was born with the organ outside her chest. The narrator gasps in awe at the sight and utters an oddly erotic ode to the throbbing muscle: "What extraordinary, breathtaking beauty! Would it feel damp if I cupped it in my hands? Would the membrane rupture if I gave it a squeeze? ... I wanted to run my fingertips over each tiny bump and furrow, touch my lips to the veins, soft tissue on soft tissue, the pressure of her pulse against my skin."

Many of Ogawa's characters, including the bag-maker and the cabaret singer, reappear in other stories, as do details and events in ways that are sometimes incidental, sometimes integral to the plots. The effect is, as Ogawa describes the novel written by the unhinged author, an "icy current running under her words."

In these stories, ordinariness is not a mask hiding the morbid and the macabre. In many cases, the ordinary life itself, with its insistent drip of isolation, sameness, sadness and loss, is what pushes the characters to the edge of madness and vengeance.

As Ogawa writes in "Welcome to the Museum of Torture," which introduces readers to an exhibit space for devices such as corsets that crush internal organs and tweezers used to slowly pluck out a victim's hair: "For torture to be effective, the pain has to be spread out; it has to come at regular intervals, with no end in sight."

Ogawa's haunting prose may not be to everyone's taste, but readers willing to explore the murkier edges of the human psyche will not be disappointed.

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes

    No

  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.

letters

Make text: Larger | Smaller

LATEST VIDEO

Willy wants to get back to winning

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • A young gosling flaps his wings after taking a bath in the duck pond at St Vital Park Tuesday morning- - Day 21– June 12, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
  • Goslings with some size head for cover Wednesday afternoon on Commerce Drive in Tuxedo Business Park - See Bryksa 30 Goose Challenge- Day 12- May 16, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)

View More Gallery Photos

Poll

Do you think e-cigarettes should be banned by the school division?

View Results

Ads by Google