The eleven ‘dark’ stories in Yoko Ogawa’s Revenge were originally published in Japan in 1998, and have been translated into English by Stephen Snyder. Ogawa, who has won every major Japanese Literary Award, has been compared to the likes of Haruki Murakami, and this collection has been heralded ‘beautiful, twisted and brilliant’.
All of the tales in Revenge have been linked together, with settings and characters overlapping from one story to the next. Strings of plot meander their way through the whole. Similar themes are repeated too, which adds to the feeling of one coherent whole – ageing, death and dying, grief, despair, and adultery, for example.
Some of the stories are very sad – in ‘Afternoon at the Bakery’, a woman purchases a strawberry shortcake for her son’s birthday. When asked how old he will be, she says, rather matter-of-factly, ‘Six. He’ll always be six. He’s dead’. Others are merely creepy, and are filled with foreboding from the very start: a woman pulls up hand-shaped carrots from her vegetable patch, which have grown as a result of a sinister occurrence, and a woman’s revenge upon her lover when he refuses to leave his wife, for example. Rather unusually, all of the stories are told using the first person perspective. Ogawa focuses upon both male and female protagonists, and each narrative voice is as strong as another.
Ogawa’s work has been crafted and translated with such care. Her descriptions are sometimes beautiful – for example, ‘The sky was a cloudless dome of sunlight’. She fills her tales with quite surprising details – the narrator of one story is invited along when a quiet classmate meets her father for the first time, and the pair do not speak again, an elderly landlady has surprising strength, and an abandoned post office is filled to the brim with kiwi fruits. The stories in Revenge are odd, quirky and unusual, and are sure to linger in the mind for days afterwards.