The Diving Pool
Author: Yokō Ogawa
Translated from the Japanese by Stephen Snyder
In Yokō Ogawa’s first major English translation, three stories present a brutally honest and fearless picture of obsession and desire. A cursory glance at the everyday lives of the characters presents the startling possibilities of cruelty and obsession. Through her discerning writing, we begin to question our presumptions about the connections we have and the motivations behind people’s actions. The mysteries of the human psyche lure you into a world of vague arbitrary signs that when deciphered can change your views completely.
In the title story The Diving Pool, we meet Aya who lives in an orphan house managed by her parents. Since she is the only one who is not an orphan there, she feels detached and alienated. The voice Aya has is a combination of innocence, coming-of-age and brutal cruelty. In an impulsive act, without any kind of motivation or reason whatsoever (at least, that’s what I think), she starts to abuse a baby in the orphanage. The baby’s cries give her pleasure and inspires a satisfaction that seems morbid and downright disturbing. Paired with this sick behavior is her obsession with another orphan Jun. She watches him during diving practice, noting his body and movements with utmost fascination.
The second story Pregnancy Diary is my least favorite but it’s as disturbing as the other stories in the book. The narrator records the progress of her sister’s pregnancy and also describes the various discomforts her sister feels. While the story moves on one can sense the narrator’s desire to create some sort of havoc that will alter the lives of not only her sister but of the baby as well.
Dormitory, the third story, is about a woman who goes back to her old dormitory which is run by an old man who has no arms and only one leg. For me this story had the most potential but the ending left me confused, unsatisfied and disappointed. Despite this, it remains my favorite of the three.
The Diving Pool is a realization that violence and cruelty can exist even in the most quiet way. The characters seem to share a common way of dealing with their negative emotions: real things are left unsaid and never thought of. It’s as if they were afraid of their own words and thoughts. The desire to cause harm to others are merely implied and never said outright as if the characters are aware that we are silently scrutinizing them. I wonder if the isolation shared by the characters warrant an ounce of sympathy from the readers of this book.
What struck me most is the capability of people to hide what they mean under the guise of somewhat innocent acts and language. While the straightforward nature of Yoko Ogawa’s prose drew me in inexplicably, considering the disturbing tones underlining each story, it still strikes me as beguiling that her simplicity of words can unsettle me. She easily exploits our familiarity and views about relationships, carefully leading us into the dark depths of suppressed emotions. She seems determined not to permit her characters to state bluntly what they are planning to do. Yoko Ogawa creates this innate tension that further confirms that there is always a possibility of cruelty and brutality hidden under manners and words.
There’s something tormenting and consuming about unspoken words and hidden motives. As the words and motives of the characters start to make sense in Yokō Ogawa’s The Diving Pool there is a stubborn sense of anticipation that motivates you to turn the pages.
The Diving Pool is an undeniable medley of beauty and darkness, paired with the simple and unrelenting writing of Yoko Ogawa. The conclusions of each story are entirely arbitrary, but the book’s entirety and its honesty will linger in the memory.
- Yoko Ogawa won the Akutagawa Prize for Pregnancy Diary in 1990. It was published in the New Yorker in 2005. You can read it here.
- For those who are interested, there is a reading guide in the publisher’s page.
- The Diving Pool won the Shirley Jackson Award for Best Collection (2008).
- Watch the promo film for the book.
- Aside from the Akutagawa Prize and Shirley Jackson Award, Yoko Ogawa has received the following literary awards: Kaien Literary Prize, Yomiuri Prize, Bookseller’s Award for The Professor’s Beloved Equation (translated as The Housekeeper and the Professor), Izumi Kyōka Prize, and Tanizaki Prize
- Revenge: Eleven Dark Tales by Yoko Ogawa [Publishers Book Page]
- The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa [Publisher’s Book Page]
- Shipwrecks by Akira Yoshimura, Mark Ealey (Translator) [Goodreads]
- The Crimson Labyrinth by Yusuke Kishi, Camellia Nieh (Translator), Masami Isetani (Translator) [Goodreads]
- Palm-of-the-Hand Stories by Yasunari Kawabata, Lane Dunlop (Translator), J. Martin Holman (Translator) [Goodreads]
Credits: Review banner background: Light Texture 10 by Xnienke, DeviantArt
This is a participatory post for the following: January In Japan 2014 Readalong and Japanese Literature Challenge 7
January 23, 2014 at 3:28 pm
I recently read Ogawa’s book of linked short stories, Revenge, and thought it was masterfully done. I definitely have The Diving Pool on my to-read list, and your review makes me want to bump it up!
January 24, 2014 at 5:37 am
That’s great! I have the book ‘Revenge’ but I don’t think I’m ready for it yet. I sensed some sort of emotional drain after reading ‘The Diving Pool’ and I need to regain that energy ;) I’m so glad you want to read it. Enjoy ;)
January 24, 2014 at 11:20 pm
Sounds a little too disturbing for me. This is my first time here and I wanted to tell you I love how you do the review banners and the quotes on the post after this.
January 26, 2014 at 11:16 am
Yes, The Diving Pool won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, I’m afraid. To be honest, I’m not too keen on reading ‘Revenge’ by the same author in the near future. I need to replenish my energy ;) Thank you so much for appreciating the review banners and quotes :)
January 27, 2014 at 8:28 am
Glad you enjoyed it :) It didn’t affect me quite as much, but perhaps that’s because I’ve built up my darkness tolerance level through years of J-Lit ;)
January 28, 2014 at 8:42 am
Yes, quite a good book. I must say that after reading all these ‘difficult’ J-Lit I am building some sort of tolerance to dark stuff haha :) And that’s coming from a Stephen King fan.
February 10, 2014 at 4:40 pm
Thanks for the review – one thing I’ve enjoyed about the Japanese Litrature Challenge is the introduction to some amazing authors who so masterfully communicate human relationships and the depth of the relationships. This collection sounds like one of those.. Of course, your own writing is very expressive and sells this collection! Thanks
February 11, 2014 at 5:53 pm
Thank you! I found Japanese literature different from most American novels. There’s (almost) always dark themes and abstract concepts within that it takes a while to understand or even decipher. I agree with you about the challenge. Because of it, I was introduced to many authors and books that I’ve never known before. Thank you for your visit and comment :)
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