THE DIVING POOL by Yoko Ogawa, Book Review

The Diving Pool Yoko OgawaThe Diving Pool Synopsis: 

Beautiful, twisted and brilliant – discover Yoko Ogawa.

A lonely teenage girl falls in love with her foster-brother as she watches him leap from a high diving board into a pool – sparking an unspoken infatuation that draws out darker possibilities.

A young woman records the daily moods of her pregnant sister in a diary, but rather than a story of growth the diary reveals a more sinister tale of greed and repulsion.

Driven by nostalgia, a woman visits her old college dormitory on the outskirts of Tokyo. There she finds an isolated world shadowed by decay, haunted by absent students and the disturbing figure of the crippled caretaker.

Translated from the original Japanese by Stephen Snyder.

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The three novellas comprising Yoko Ogawa’s collection The Diving Pool have a distinctly different flavour to the previous work of hers I’d read, The Housekeeper and The Professor.

While The Housekeeper and The Professor was a charming and overtly gentle tale, the stories within The Diving Pool all tap into dark places of the human psyche and sinister intentions, but in varying ways.

Common to all her work is the appealing lack of pretence in Ogawa’s prose (and that translated by Stephen Snyder). Words are not squandered but chosen carefully to extract maximum value – a writing style I have great admiration for.

I found the title novella ‘The Diving Pool’ the most successful of the three pieces. In this piece some descriptions of the characters’ environment were particularly tangible,

It’s always warm here: I feel as though I’ve been swallowed by a huge animal. After a few minutes, my hair, my eyelashes, even the blouse of my school uniform are damp from the heat and humidity, and I’m bathed in a moist film that smells vaguely of chlorine.

while others were shocking and visceral,

Her lips were like two maggots that never stopped wriggling, and I found myself wanting to squash them between my fingers.

The lead character in ‘The Diving Pool’ was the most capably sinister and garnered the greatest revulsion from me.

The second piece, ‘The Pregnancy Diary’ centres on obsession, self-delusion and a sinister form of karma. This story was quite linear and held my interest the least, but nonetheless provides a worthy caution in respect to the ‘quiet ones’ in society.

The final piece, ‘Dormitory’ evoked a more haunting and weighty feeling, with the commonplace often viewed through a fantastical lens. While its greater complexity and mystery element held my interest, the lead female’s overt ‘head in the sand behaviour’ and the looseness of the resolution frustrated me.

I personally had an intense dislike of the female characters within these stories – they play passive and almost mute victim roles in society. They do not attribute value to themselves and when they do lash out it is often behind the veil of cowards. I felt like I was supposed to feel sympathy for them, but I just didn’t. My strong reaction to Ogawa’s characters, despite that reaction being negative, indicates her skill in their portrayal. They are however not characters I would choose to spend a lot of my leisure reading time with – so I’m left in no hurry to pick up another of Ogawa’s works, despite her authorial talent.

The Diving Pool showcases Ogawa’s originality and refreshingly minimal prose, but is ‘very Japanese’ in that it taps into the darkness emanating from the under-appreciated and unseen within society. Not recommended for those already in a dark mood…

BOOK RATING: The Story 3 / 5 ; The Writing 4 / 5  —  Overall 3.5

Get your copy of The Diving Pool from:

Amazon | Booktopia | Book Depository | Kobobooks

January in JapanGenre: Literature, Translation, Thriller, Mystery, Short Stories

* This review counts towards my participation in January in Japan and the Global Reading Challenge 2014 (Asia).

Author Information, Yoko Ogawa

Yoko Ogawa’s fiction has appeared in The New Yorker, A Public Space, and Zoetrope. Since 1988 she has published more than twenty works of fiction and nonfiction, and has won every major Japanese literary award.

Other reviews of The Diving Pool

The Guardian; Words Without Borders; In Spring It Is The Dawn; The Parrish Lantern; JoV’s Book Pyramid

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  1. I enjoyed reading this for January In Japan. My favorite was Dormitory but I thought the ending was too abrupt. It was my first Yoko Ogawa book and I honestly didn’t expect the darkness and the fluidity of her writing. Although I’d like to read Revenge next, I’m taking my time and preparing myself for it.

  2. This was the first Yoko Ogawa I read, picking it up randomly in a second hand book shop because of the beautiful cover and then wondering why I had never the name before. Her portrayal of character is excellent.

    Not long after The Housekeeper + The Professor was published in English, and what a delightful book, allowing us to see a total different kind of character.

    Last year I was straight onto her latest collection into English ‘Revenge’ when it came out and by now I recognise the master that she is, the stories made compulsive reading and were almost like a writing exercise proving to anyone who might ask, that yes, you can write 12 or 14 stories in a row on one theme and not lose your readers.

    I can’t wait to see which book will be translated next!

  3. I would like to read it because I want to try Ogawa’s work, though I only know of Housekeeper and now this one so I suppose there’s likely a better choice out there. Dark is fine, but if it’s all dark I find it can make you think the other books might be the same.

    1. Charlie, I would definitely recommend experiencing her work, if not for her writing style, which I have great admiration for. I don’t necessarily mind dark either, but for me to enjoy that the darker themed stories I need to feel some connection with or empathy for the characters.