Yoko Ogawa’s 2008 The Diving Pool is a collection of three psychological horror novellas that were originally published separately in Japanese. The 2008 English translation was by Stephen Snyder.
The Diving Pool may contain three novellas, but it still adds up to a very short book… which is what I wanted. Also, I liked the cover. Modern trends in cover art often fail to engage me; this one caught my eye. That’s the sort of thing that increases the odds that I will buy and read the book. That may be a shallow reason, but it’s one that I share with many book-buyers.
Unlike some previous Ogawa works, while there are surreal aspects, the speculative fiction elements here are minimal. What the collection does have in abundance is malice. Protagonists inflict monstrous cruelties on others, often for no obvious compelling reason. This doesn’t bother the protagonists, but the cruelties will probably bother readers.
Translation can present an impenetrable barrier between author and audience. Not being literate in Japanese, I cannot say how this translation compares to the original. I can say that Snyder’s text delivers lean but evocative, atmospheric prose. Of course, given the subject matter, that may not please some readers, but they should have been warned off by the term “psychological horror.”
About the three novellas:
The Diving Pool
Raised in an orphanage run by her biological parents, Aya is different from the other children. She alone is being raised by her birth parents.
Aya is consumed by two passions.
She is utterly obsessed with orphan Jun, spying on him at swimming practice to relish his body and swimming form. Aya has no idea how to form a relationship with Jun, so settles for creepy stalking.
Young Rie is less fortunate. The child is small and innocent. Entrusted with babysitting Rie, Aya sees the infant as an ideal target for malicious torture. After all, Rie is too young to speak. Who will ever know?
Jun is more perceptive than Aya knows.
The unnamed narrator shares a dwelling with her married sister and her sister’s husband. The arrangement seems to work well enough. If nobody seems particularly happy, neither is there conspicuous strife.
When her sister becomes pregnant, the protagonist observes the subsequent events with interest. Sharing a household as they do, she can hardly escape. The protagonist’s interest in her sister’s pregnancy becomes malicious, with unfortunate consequences for the pregnant woman’s diet and the wellbeing of the unborn baby.
A long-lost cousin’s plea for help obtaining housing provides a woman with welcome distraction from the tasks necessary to join her husband in distant Europe. The wife knows the perfect place: an inexpensive dormitory run by a triple amputee known as the Manager.
The wife reacquaints herself with the Manager and, still unwilling to tackle the mounting list of moving chores her husband sets for her, focuses on the mystery that plagues the declining dormitory. A student disappeared. To where? Why? What might be the consequences of learning the answers?