Yoko Ogawa’s collection Revenge was first published in 1998 as Kamoku na shigai, Midara na tomurai. Under the current title it was made available in English in 2013 by Picador.
Revenge includes eleven macabre short stories. The collection is not long but it is very good.
“Afternoon at the Bakery” • short story:
A seemingly innocent visit to a bakery is accompanied by tragedy and inconsolable loss.
“Fruit Juice” • short story:
Safely escorted by her teacher, a young woman meets her estranged father for the first time. The awkward encounter takes place because the girl’s mother is dying. The meeting does not improve matters.
Always looming death with Ogawa. This story also featured the first appearance of the post office full of kiwi fruit. Fruit seems to be an ineffective way to deal with grief.
“Old Mrs. J” • short story:
Just what is planted in the old Mrs. J’s backyard and why is it producing hand-shaped fruit?
“The Little Dustman” • short story:
Portrait of a slowly collapsing second marriage, from the perspective of a child watching his stepmother descend into authorial paranoia. Which, as we know, is the worst kind of paranoia.
“Lab Coats” • short story:
Under the watchful eye of an admiring co-worker, a young woman’s covert affair with a cad of a philandering surgeon goes horribly awry.
“Sewing for the Heart” • short story:
A purse-maker of exceptional talent accepts a rare commission. Even her client’s last-minute betrayal will not prevent the purse-maker from fulfilling her contract.
“Welcome to the Museum of Torture” • short story:
A visit to a peculiar museum inspires a young woman who plans to give her boyfriend a delightful surprise.
“The Man Who Sold Braces” • short story:
What legacy can an aging conman give his nephew?
“The Last Hour of the Bengal Tiger” • short story:
An ancient and beloved carnivore faces its final day.
“Tomatoes and the Full Moon” • short story:
Two patrons in a hotel bond when an older woman notices a younger patron who looks just like a fondly remembered good Samaritan. The older woman vanishes one day, but leaves a final gift for her young friend.
“Poison Plants” • short story:
An older woman sponsors a young man’s education, demanding in return that he dine with her each week to report on his progress. The relationship lasts for years, but she will never get what she truly wants from the student.
Having never heard of Ogawa before — I am even more surprised at my ignorance of this apparently well-known author than you are! — I didn’t have any idea what to expect. What I got was a very short collection of intricately wrought stories from an author whose work I will make a point of seeking out in the future.
Although the connections are not always obvious, the stories together form a whole; this isn’t a collection of unrelated works but glimpses of the same world from various perspectives. Many of the works start off innocently enough — a trip to a bakery, a romance, a holiday — but invariably they find their way towards the macabre and the tragic. It’s that sort of world.
Stephen Snyder’s transation is seamless: I am often aware of the translator between me and the original text (in particular with translations from Japanese, where a certain level of clunkiness seems acceptable, particular in spec fic light novels) but that was not the case here.
I have to thank BookShout for pointing out this collection. Even though it turned out that a Canadian cannot (as far as I can tell) take advantage of their daily sale, I don’t think I would have noticed Revenge if it had not been featured in just such a sale. It would have been a pity to miss this. Finding it just before Halloween was a serendipitous fluke.