Updated on May 19, 2015
24. ‘Revenge’ by Yoko Ogawa
One of my favourite words was made up by a blogger. According to The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, sonder means:
“The realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own—populated with their own ambitions, friends, routines, worries and inherited craziness—an epic story that continues invisibly around you like an anthill sprawling deep underground, with elaborate passageways to thousands of other lives that you’ll never know existed, in which you might appear only once, as an extra sipping coffee in the background, as a blur of traffic passing on the highway, as a lighted window at dusk.”
To me, sonder perfectly sums up the experience of reading Yoko Ogawa’s Revenge.
Revenge is a collection of ‘eleven dark tales’. Each story is told from a different character’s perspective and, at first, there does not seem to be much of a connection between them. But, as you read, small links start to appear (“Oh, she mentioned strawberry shortcake in the last story too”), and these links grow and grow until you realise that you’re actually reading a network of stories. That character you saw in the background of one story becomes the protagonist of another; an event that one character sees in passing, changes a different character’s entire life.
Because of this, you start to feel like an omnipresent force, hopping in and out of people’s heads, spying on the internal lives of characters you have just encountered in passing.
The stories are very calm: there’s a sense of quiet detachment which belies the passion and tragedy in what is taking place. There is death here, violence, suicide and eroticism, but the steady tone of voice and simplistic descriptions lend an almost hypnotic quality to the narrative.
In the first story, ‘Afternoon at the Bakery’, a woman goes to a bakery to buy some strawberry shortcake for her son’s birthday; she buys him the same cake every year, even though he died in an accident when he was six. All the stories are like this, drawing you in with a beckoning finger and then quietly stabbing you in the heart.
This is one of the best books I’ve read so far this year and I think I may have found a new favourite writer. Ogawa writes in exactly the way I would like to write, and here she has created a book that will delight you, horrify you and get well and truly under your skin.
You can win Revenge and three more of Ogawa’s books by entering my giveaway before Friday 11th July!
Alternatively, you can buy Revenge here.