Revenge: Eleven Dark Tales, Yoko Ogawa, my thoughts. Let me see...
On the surface, nothing too special. The settings are, for the most part, generic, but elegantly established. And often times there are certain aspects of the setting that are intended to off-put the reader. Example: the hillside described at the start of “Old Mrs. J” is depicted as a “swarm of dark green bats” that “might fly away at any moment”. Imagine that, a veritable horde of winged rats taking to the sky all at once. Sort of intimidating. How about this: the hall in the basement in “Lab Coats”, the way it slopes so that the “laundry cart rolls forward on its own...like it’s going to race forward and crash through the door of the morgue”. Magnetic corpse chambers. Fun stuff. Definitely tons of fun for the receptionists who have to be down there sorting out laundry in the same general vicinity. You get my point.
So there’s this unsettling undertone to all the stories. It’s subtle and artfully done, and so are the links made between each of separate stories that converge to form one intricate lethal network of betrayal and loss and mystery and, of course, Revenge.
Highlights of the book, for me, would have to include “Afternoon at the Bakery”, “Welcome to the Museum of Torture”, and “Poison Plants”. “Afternoon at the Bakery" is the first story and it sets off the unnerving feel of the whole book. The suffering of the mother who lost her young son must be terrible, yet the depth of that suffering is only cleverly hinted at by the mother herself calmly listing the stages of her grief.
“Welcome to the Museum of Torture” comes in around the middle of the book and I’m pretty sure it stands to be my personal favorite (this one or “The Last Hour of the Bengal Tiger”), and that is because of the novelty atmosphere it has. The elderly gentleman, smartly dressed, who, all alone, gives tours of a museum that houses wild, gruesome attractions. Yep. Novelty. Is that the right word for such a thing? Anyways, the mood was oddly casual, for the setting, and some of the dialogue made me laugh for the sheer out-of-place-ness of it, so kind and mannerly was it.
“Poison Plants” is the last part and it’s as if the sourness and ugliness creeping just under the skin of all the past scenarios have finally come to the fore. Unease and vice and torment are more pronounced by the narrating character of the old woman, a victim of weathering time and fading passion. She plainly yearns for the fire of life that she once possessed in her youth, and so she tries to buy it by paying for a music pupil’s lessons in return for his promise to come visit her every other Saturday. Though, eventually, she is disappointed by the cold reality that the boy is grateful for her charity and feels in debt to her and nothing anymore personal than that. As soon as he is able, he pays her back and never shows his face again. It’s an icy, clean cut. Numbing. Full on rejection, basically.
Other people’s feelings can’t be controlled, no matter how desperate somebody might be to change things. And the old woman, having realized this, stumbles out into the night, loses her way in the woods, and arrives at a scrap yard littered solely by refrigerators of all kinds. Who should she find stuffed in one of them, dead and gone, but herself? Her own corpse cowering lifelessly in the discarded fridge.
I’m going to be honest, the conclusion of this book does confuse me, mainly because the first part, “Afternoon at the Bakery”, implies a different ending. There are parallels between the first and last parts of the book, those being the old woman, the refrigerator yard, and the presence of a dead body inside one of the fridges. So the very last few lines really throw me right off. I won’t go all the way into detail. I encourage you to read the book and figure it out for yourself. If you have any compelling ideas about the significance or meaning of the ending, leave a comment. I’d love to know.