44. ‘The Diving Pool’ by Yoko Ogawa

Last year I read Revenge by Yoko Ogawa for the first time and I absolutely adored it. In fact, I named it my Best Book of the Year, and it might be my favourite book of all time. It’s certainly up there. That’s quite an act to follow, and it’s probably why I haven’t picked up anything else by Ogawa since.

Recently I decided to read The Diving Pool – a collection of three short stories by Ogawa. I was so hoping that they would be as good as the stories in Revenge, and they are. Overall I don’t love this collection as much as I loved my first dip into the world of this fascinating writer, but these stories definitely hold up to the standard she set herself in that first collection.

the diving pool yoko ogawa

Ogawa’s writing is just … amazing. She writes exactly how I would like to write: seemingly straightforward stories that actually pack an incredible emotional punch. The language is not complex at all, but its simplicity is deceptive. There is always something dark and twisted lingering under the surface, and she manages to rack up the tension and discomfort in every story without seeming to break a sweat. It’s all very calm and it’s all very scary. I love it.

The Diving Pool is a collection of three short stories. The first, ‘The Diving Pool’, is about a girl called Aya who is obsessed with watching her adopted brother Jun dive at the local pool. It also deals with her dark, abusive relationship with her younger adopted sister, Rie. The second story, ‘Pregnancy Diary’, follows a different female protagonist as she keeps a record of her sister’s pregnancy and the bizarre, disturbing things that happen to her. Finally there’s ‘Dormitory’, about a woman who returns to her college dormitory years later and strikes up a friendship with the disabled Manager. In every one of these stories there are elements of the strange and the seemingly unreal.

the diving pool
Yoko Ogawa – Image from NPR Books (Tadashi Okochi/Picador USA)

I did some reading about Ogawa and her Wikipedia article says that her “characters often seem not to know why they are doing what they are doing”. That is absolutely spot on. So often a character – even the narrator, the one whose head we are inside – will do something, perhaps something cruel and awful, without really knowing why. They talk about urges and compulsions and needs, but they don’t stop to analyse what is behind those feelings. This really adds to the tension in the stories: if these characters don’t know why they’re doing terrible things, what’s to stop anyone from doing them?

Ogawa also has a fantastic talent for making the real and mundane seem surreal. Sometimes just the way she describes something – or merely the act of picking it out from the background – makes it seem sinister. Tiny details add up, apparently insignificant things become loaded with meaning, and the reader’s mind races with assumptions and conclusions. I think ‘Dormitory’ is the best story in this collection because it plays with the idea that the reader knows something the main character doesn’t. We feel so clever for having worked out what we think is the ending to the story, only to have it completely turned on its head. It’s simply masterful.

I don’t think I will ever stop singing Yoko Ogawa’s praises, and the more I read of her work the more I love it.

“Thus, I found myself rattling around in the empty days, like a silkworm in a cocoon.”

Have you read this book? I’d love to know your thoughts!

Want to read this? You can buy the book here.

2 Comments on “44. ‘The Diving Pool’ by Yoko Ogawa

    • She’s really good – I hope you like it :)

      By the way, I’m enjoying ‘All My Puny Sorrows’ – very harrowing and beautifully written.

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