Strengths: It’s amazing how tangled up the stories are with each other, from motifs to characters to events.
Weaknesses: A bit eerie at times!
Why I read it: Sent to me by Random House – thank you!
Published: 2013 (English translation)
Publisher: Harvill Secker
Rating: 8.5 out of 10
My friends often tease me about my love of Japanese literature; labelling it ‘weird, strange and kooky’ (how dragons, vampires and werewolves are normal and quaint in comparison escapes me). I enjoy it, but it’s not always the happiest genre to read as many works combine the everyday with the surreal and the less desirable side of human nature. Yoko Ogawa is an expert in this – I found Hotel Iris to be the antithesis of Fifty Shades of Grey, combining submission with subversiveness and an unsettling undercurrent. If you enjoyed any of Yoko Ogawa’s previous books, you’ll enjoy Revenge.
Ogawa is a master of the short story genre, combining sparse prose with an unsettling, eerie feeling that runs through the entire book. She can capture a scene in just a few words and your mind runs away with the rest, filling in the blanks to create extraordinary from the ordinary. For example, why would someone house kiwi fruit in an unused bank? Why do hand-shaped carrots turn red when you scrub them? Why does someone give away tomatoes spilled at a fatal accident? Why would you wait at a bakery for hours to be served?
Ogawa doesn’t answer the questions she writes about, but provides just enough detail for the reader to make the connections between the characters and the odd events. For example, the woman waiting at the bakery is mourning the death of her son and the reason for her patience is that she always buys a strawberry shortcake on his birthday. The way that Ogawa links motifs, actions and characters through each of the eleven tales is also a sight to behold. I would have loved to see her planning of this book – there are so many parts where I thought, ‘Aha! That must be related to the writer who was living in the apartment across from the carrot growing lady, who turned out to-‘ etc etc. Don’t think that this book sounds too highbrow and you won’t be able to remember – there’s enough hints to set you on the right track.
So what do all the motifs and symbols mean? Well, I left English class a long time ago and I’m not here for that. But I think that some of the symbols (such as the heart outside the chest) are reflective of human nature. You could analyse this book to death and still not ‘get it all’ or you could just enjoy Ogawa’s exceptional craft. Definitely worth a read, potentially even multiple ones to enjoy it more.