Revenge by Yoko Ogawa
A woman goes into a bakery to buy a strawberry cream tart for her son’s birthday. Every year she buys him his favourite cake even though he died in an accident when he was six years old. From this beginning Yoko Ogawa weaves a dark and beautiful narrative. Each story follows on from the one before while simultaneously introducing new characters and themes. Ogawa provides us with a slice of life that is resplendent in its chaos and chilling in its cruelty.
First Impressions: I liked the writing style. The first story was good and I guessed the stories would get even better… I was right!
Highlights: I was amazed at how subtly all the stories carried on from each other and were linked. This did not feel forced or contrived as I had originally feared it would. A lot of the characters and plots appear over a few stories so it is hard to say which stories or characters I liked best but the narratives around Old Mrs J, Lab Coats and Tomatoes and the Full Moon were most memorable. Ogawa has the power to shock in these stories when you least suspect it and I did gasp out loud a few times when reading.
If I was an editor: Oh, some of the characters definitely deserve their own novel!
Overall: I think I picked up all the links to different characters and stories… At least I hope I did!
Revenge: 5 Stars
The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa
I have been incredibly busy in January – even busier than I was in December – but have luckily found time to review this short novel in time for it to count towards the Japanese Reading Challenge, and with one day to spare!
A young housekeeper is sent to look after an old maths professor with a peculiar problem: due to an accident his working memory only lasts 80 minutes. Every morning the Housekeeper and the Professor become reacquainted. Although the professor can only remember eloquent maths formulas, a bond forms between the two.
First Impressions: When I flipped through the novel I saw a few mathematical formula scattered here and there so I worried that perhaps too much of the text would be over my head. Not true! The novel wasn’t as sentimental as I feared either. Ogawa writes with the detached style typical of Japanese authors.
Highlights: Much to my surprise I loved the mathematical musings and found myself trying to work out the problems before the answer was revealed! I felt the same about the many references to baseball teams and statistics, which I was not expecting. I found the Housekeeper’s backstory to be really interesting and would have loved more of this to be included.
If I was an editor: I would find it hard to think of a way to improve this story. More intrigue is always encouraged. Much to my relief it wasn’t overly sentimental and neither was the ending predictable. I do now realise I approached the story expecting (fearing?) a European narrative.
Overall: A great example of Japanese fiction for western readers. A touching way to wrap up my Japanese Literature Challenge.
The Housekeeper and the Professor: 4 stars