Book Review: Revenge by Yōko Ogawa

by Yōko Ogawa

Publication date: January 31st 2013
Publisher: Harvill Secker (first published 1998)
Pages: 162

A woman goes into a bakery to buy a strawberry cream tart. The place is immaculate but there is no one serving so she waits. Another customer comes in. The woman tells the new arrival that she is buying her son a treat for his 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 that pulls together a seemingly disconnected cast of characters. In the tradition of classical Japanese poetic collections, the stories in Revenge are linked through recurring images and motifs, as each story follows on from the one before while simultaneously introducing new characters and themes. Filled with breathtaking images, Ogawa provides us with a slice of life that is resplendent in its chaos, enthralling in its passion and chilling in its cruelty.

Source: Goodreads


This was my second set of short stories in as many weeks and I’m so glad that I didn’t rule this type of story out completely after a poor experience with What it Means When a Man Falls From the Sky.

After finishing this and also Hotel Iris a few weeks ago, it seems that I’ve fallen for Yōko Ogawa and her writing style. Each story is so dark yet so beautifully written, she’s subtly wicked and not afraid to shock the reader over and over again. Even with simple sentences and structures and without being overly wordy, the images Ogawa paints are fascinating and I found that I could really picture every scene of the stories she tells.

Each story is related to the last in some way, sometimes this link is subtle and sometimes it’s a lot more obvious. Once I realised that these links were there in the first couple of stories, I enjoyed looking out for the connection, trying to predict what it might be. A torture museum, a pet tiger and murders galore, – what more could you want?

Of the eleven stories, I think that “Old Mrs J” was my favourite. “Sewing for the Heart” and “The Man Who Sold Braces” are high on my list too.

So that’s it, I’ve already exhausted my local library‘s collection of Ogawa’s books. I think it’s time for a walk to the book shop to pick up some more…

Overall rating: I’d recommended these short stories for someone looking to read something a little dark. Yōko Ogawa writes simply without over-complicating things to tell 11 stories of revenge. They may be odd or strange to some but I have really enjoyed spending a few days engrossed in these little stories and give “Revenge” 5 stars.

See my other reviews of books by Yōko Ogawa here:

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