Skip to content

Yoko Ogawa, Revenge: Eleven Dark Tales

RevengeTowards the end of ‘Afternoon at the Bakery’, the opening story of Japanese author Yoko Ogawa’s slim but mesmerizing volume, Revenge, the narrator describes the discovery of the body of her late son, who suffocated after crawling into an abandoned refrigerator.

“He’s just sleeping,” she says, refusing to believe he is dead, “He hasn’t eaten anything, and he must be exhausted. Let’s carry him home and try not to wake him. He should sleep, as much as he wants. He’ll wake up later, I’m sure of it”.

It’s an exquisitely unsettling moment, and not just because of the way it plays upon our deep-seated sense of the strangeness of death, its closeness to life, but because of the way it evokes a particular sort of psychological instability, reminding us of how easy it is for our minds recoil from reality and take refuge in fantasy and denial.

Yet it might also serve as a microcosm of the emotional landscape and method of the book as a whole. For as becomes clear when the image of the abandoned refrigerator recurs to deeply disquieting effect in the book’s final pages, the stories in Revenge are not so much a collection, or even a suite or sequence, but something more closely resembling a set of uncanny matryoshka dolls, each nestled inside the last like the dead boy folded into his refrigerator.

For many readers this sort of metafictional gameplay will probably be reminiscent of Murakami, in particular his sprawling opus, 1Q84, with its worlds within worlds and floating cocoons. But where Murakami’s fiction is characterised by the tension between the curiously bland, almost affectless, prose (and its digressive fascination with cooking and running and whatever else seems to take its author’s fancy) and its surreal elements, Ogawa’s draws much of its power from somewhere considerably darker, the almost preternatural clarity of the prose belying the profound cognitive dissonance that lies at the heart of many of these stories.

Sometimes that dissonance reflects a disengagement from reality, rather as the calm words of the narrator of ‘Afternoon at the Bakery’ offer an unsettling suggestion of a mind both rational and profoundly disturbed, a quality that is repeated in ‘Old Mrs J’, in which the slightly-over-familiar landlord of the neighbour turns out to have murdered her husband and buried him in her vegetable plot, an act that has led, in one of the book’s more disturbing images, to crops of carrots resembling human hands (apparently the carrots are “plump, like a baby’s hand, and perfectly formed”).

Elsewhere though it takes other forms, as in stories such as ‘Welcome to the Museum of Torture’, in which a young woman abandoned by her boyfriend (whether for her disturbing affectlessness or for her interest in a nearby murder is never entirely clear) finds herself fascinated by the exhibits in the titular museum, or ‘Lab Coats’, in which a young woman with a crush on her co-worker hears her shocking confession (the story ends with the unnerving image of a tongue lolling out of the pocket of a used coat. “It’s still soft,” the narrator says. “And maybe even warm”).

As the repeated images of bodily mutilation and death suggest, much of the power of the stories in Revenge lies in their capacity to articulate anxieties that are usually suppressed. And certainly the book is at its strongest when it is exploring repression and sublimation, rather than in more deliberately surreal moments such as ‘Sewing for the Heart’, in which a bagmaker is commissioned to make a special bag for a woman whose heart is outside her body.

Yet in many ways what is most striking about Revenge is the way its nested imagery echoes and recurs, weaving a web of implication that is as suggestive as it is disturbing, and giving shape to a world in which the line between reality and our most morbid imaginings is never entirely clear.

‘The Changeling’ Included in 2014 Locus Recommended Reading List

Issue02_499x648As usual the February issue of Locus Magazine includes its annual Recommended Reading List, covering books and stories published over the previous calendar year. Compiled by the magazine’s editors, reviewers and a panel of outside critics, it always makes for fascinating reading, and this year’s list, which includes a number of books and stories I have read and would heartily recommend (David Mitchell’s The Bone Clocks, Garth Nix’s Clariel, Adam Roberts’ Bête, Katherine Addison’s The Goblin Emperor, Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Sword, William Gibson’s The Peripheral) and a number I haven’t but I’m looking forward to a lot (Rjurik Davidson’s Unwrapped Sky, Ben Peek’s The Godless, Nina Allan’s The Race) is no exception.

At a personal level though I was delighted to discover my story, ‘The Changeling’, which was published in Jonathan Strahan’s Fearsome Magics (which also gets a mention in the Recommended Anthologies list) included in the list of Recommended Novelettes.

You can read the full list of recommended books and stories over at Locus. And if you’d like to read ‘The Changeling’ you can pick up a copy of Fearsome Magics (which also features stories by Garth NixKarin TidbeckKaaron WarrenFrances HardingeIsobelle Carmody and a bunch of other excellent people) from online and bricks and mortar retailers or through your favourite ebook retailer.

Clade Book Trailer

Clade Publication Day!

CladeMy new novel, Clade, hits bookshop shelves today. I’m incredibly excited it’s finally out: Penguin have done an amazing job and it looks gorgeous, but more importantly it’s a book I’m very proud of, and which means a great deal to me.

If you’d like to know a little more about it you can check out the publisher’s description, or read the first chapter, and if you’re curious about the title I’ve written a little piece about it you might find interesting.

I’ll be posting more information on events and things as they’re announced, but if you’re in Sydney there’s a launch at Better Read Than Dead at 6:00pm on Thursday 5 February, and one of the Sydney Story Factory’s Author Talks at 6:00pm on Wednesday 18 February. I’ll also be at Adelaide Writers’ Week in March.

But in the meantime, yay! And I hope you like it.

Adelaide Writers’ Week

I’m very excited to say I’ll be a guest at Adelaide Writers’ Week in March. The full list of guests, which includes the brilliant John Lanchester, Michel Faber, Joan London, Jenny Offil, John Darnielle, Ceridwen DoveyJane Gleeson-White and Willy Vlautin is available on the Writers’ Week website, where you can also check out events day by day or download a pdf of the full program, but you can catch me in conversation with Delia Falconer at 1:15pm on Sunday 1 March and talking about love and apocalypse with Michel Faber and Canadian poet Ken Babstock at 5:00pm on Monday 2 March. I’ll also be interviewing Mountain Goats frontman and novelist John Darnielle about his terrific new novel, Wolf in White Van,  at 5:00pm on Saturday 28 February (an event I’m really excited about).

If you’re going to be in Adelaide please come along; in the meantime here’s Writers’ Week Director Laura Kroetsch talking about Clade a couple of months ago.

A Little Music for the Weekend …

Three things that have been on high rotation in my life lately. First up Mary Timony (formerly of Helium and Wild Flag)’s new band Ex Hex’s terrific debut, Rips, the second Jessica Hernandez and the Deltas’ similarly brilliant debut, Secret Evil. And finally The Felice Brothers’ light as air and completely delightful new album, Favourite Waitress. All fantastic, all very worth a few minutes of your valuable time.

Read the first chapter of Clade for free

CladeMy new novel, Clade, hits Australian bookstores on 28 January, but in the meantime Penguin have made the first chapter available on their website.

If you like what you read you can preorder the print version through Booktopia, Bookworld, Gleebooks, Readings, Better Read Than Dead, Pages and Pages, Abbey’s or your favourite online or bricks and mortar bookseller, or purchase the ebook from the Australian iBookstore, the Kobo storeAmazon.com and Amazon.com.au.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 4,693 other followers