Long after I had realised that my son would not be coming back, I kept the strawberry shortcake we were meant to have eaten together. I passed my days watching it rot. First, the cream turned brown and separated from the fat staining the cellophane wrapper. Then the strawberries dried out, wrinkling up like dead heads of deformed babies. The sponge cake hardened and crumbled, and finally a layer of mold appeared.
‘Mold can be quite beautiful,’ I told my husband. The spots multiplied, covering the shortcake in delicate blotches of color.
Snapshots like these are what saved this book for me. Ogawa has an uncanny talent for bringing decay to life in a vivid and clinical manner, like the snapshot of a high resolution picture. And yet more than terrifying, her stories and her descriptions are so cold and detached that they almost lull you into thinking that what’s happening is normal, ordinary, a part of everyday life no more disagreeable than your commute to work.
Eerie – Detached – Connection – Red
Revenge by Yoko Ogawa is a collection of dark short stories connecting a host of different characters. According to Goodreads “Murderers and mourners, mothers and children, lovers and innocent bystanders—their fates converge in a darkly beautiful web that they are each powerless to escape.”
Published the year I was born these are short stories, but they are so intertwined that you cannot read them separately. In fact an issue that I had in getting into this little book is that in the beginning I was reading it a few pages at a time or a story at a time, but doing that really takes away from the way that the lives of all the different characters flow together. I’d say that to enjoy this book you almost have to read it in one sitting, which isn’t hard ( don’t panic!), it really is quite little.
I have to confess that I read The Memory Police last summer and I had the same problem that I had with Revenge, which is that it felt very detached, far away. Some of these short stories deal with jealousy and grief and loneliness and yet it feels more like we’re surgeons observing them as we carve them up, unaffected and not quite invested enough to feel what they’re feeling. And maybe this is intentional, I certainly felt that with The Memory Police because apathy seemed to me to be the whole point of the book, how once we forget something it simply ceases to exist, we don’t even know to miss it in the first place, we just feel…empty. And maybe it’s the same here, the alienation that a reader feels in knowing that what these characters are feeling should be familiar and relatable is instead far removed from us. This book, despite featuring deeply interconnected lives, robs you of precisely that, the feeling of human connection. And that can be horrifying in itself.
I finished this book feeling a little unmoored and needing to make up for it by consuming some kind of stimulation, any kind. I’m dramatic sure, but I guess my point here is: what is really scary for you? There are lots of different feelings of fear and while what Revenge taps into might not be as in your face as say The dangers of Smoking in bed, the more I digest it the more I’ve come to appreciate how disconcerted it left me.
I couldn’t really say what seasons this book is for honestly, maybe it is perfect for midseasons just because that’s maybe the least stable time of the year.
Overall I did struggle to get through this book and I finished it almost as if it were a chore but I think that was partly just me, I was in a bit of a slump and again the way I read it. I couldn’t tell you which was my favourite story, maybe Sewing for the Heart. Definitely won’t be one of my favourites of the year but it was still an interesting read. Maybe Yoko Ogawa and I just aren’t in sinc yet.
If you’re looking for a spooky read I would give this a pass, but if you’re looking to do a bit more introspection or for a read that will subtly disconcert you then read away!
Pssst – I read this interview that Yoko Ogawa did with the NYtimes and she mentions this beaver skull that she keeps on her desk while she’s writing because it’s an industrious animal and I just cannot with her. That is hilarious and kind of gives you an idea of how mundanely creepy her writing is, if that’s a thing, that people can say.