Book Review: The Diving Pool by Yōko Ogawa

The Diving Pool
by Yōko Ogawa, Stephen Snyder (Translator)

Publication date:  July 3rd 2008
Publisher: Harvill Secker (first published 1990)
Pages: 176

From Akutagawa Award-winning author Yoko Ogawa comes a haunting trio of novellas about love, fertility, obsession, and how even the most innocent gestures may contain a hairline crack of cruel intent. A lonely teenage girl falls in love with her foster brother as she watches him leap from a high diving board into a pool—a peculiar infatuation that sends unexpected ripples through her life. A young woman records the daily moods of her pregnant sister in a diary, taking meticulous note of a pregnancy that may or may not be a hallucination—but whose hallucination is it, hers or her sister’s? A woman nostalgically visits her old college dormitory on the outskirts of Tokyo, a boarding house run by a mysterious triple amputee with one leg.

Hauntingly spare, beautiful, and twisted, The Diving Pool is a disquieting and at times darkly humorous collection of novellas about normal people who suddenly discover their own dark possibilities

Source: Goodreads


“The Diving Pool” is a a collection of three novellas. It’s the third book by Yoko Ogawa that I’ve read and the third that I have really enjoyed.

As I’ve said before, Ogawa writes simplistically without the need for lengthy description and the style of writing means when I read these stories, I feel like I’ve entered someone’s dream. Each tale begins gently and slowly increases in intensity, allowing you to ‘discover’ the story at the same time as the narrators.

The first of these novellas, ‘The Diving Pool’ , focuses on teenage girl Aya who’s obsessed with her foster brother Jun. Jun is a diver and Aya spends her time hanging around the pool just to spend time with him.

The second story is called ‘Pregnancy Diary’, a somewhat sinister record of the narrator’s sister’s pregnancy and her relationship with food throughout it. Unlike in “Revenge“, there is no connection between these stories and they can be read completely independently from one another. This troubling story was actually award winning on its own when published in 1990.

The final story is ‘Dormitory’ and out of the three, this novella reminded me the most of Ogawa’s other work, particularly ‘Old Mrs J’ from “Revenge“. The narrator in this story helps out her cousin by recommending her old college dormitory as a place to stay and in turn reacquaints herself with the dorm manager, an aging triple amputee. I didn’t like this story as much as the first two, it felt unfinished and I still have so many questions.

Each of these stories is subtly unsettling in their own way. They’re not scary or overly disturbing, but they are captivating and always leave you wanting more. Ogawa explores how people sometimes find themselves acting out in ways that are cruel and often bizarre and from what I can tell, people love reading about this too.

Overall rating: It’s clear that I’ve found my new favourite author. This is the third book I’ve read by Yoko Ogawa and I’ve enjoyed everyone. Ogawa is a beautifully simplistic story teller and these three short stories are dark but certainly worth a read – 4 stars.

See my other reviews of books by Yōko Ogawa here:

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