Published by Vintage on January 2nd, 2014 (first published 1998)
Genres: Horror, Japanese literature
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.
Let me begin by saying that I absolutely love it when books do ‘the Thing’.
“The Thing”, you ask? Yes, the Thing. That Thing where authors skilfully weave together different narratives.
Revenge is one such book. Also subtitled Eleven Dark Tales, this book consists of eleven different stories with a seemingly different cast. The way Ogawa has linked these stories, however, is subtle, small and often barely noticeable. But by the time you get to the end of the book, to the very last page, you wonder what the hell you’ve been reading and how it all fits together.
The book is usually categorised as horror, however if you expect blatant horror you might be disappointed. Also, the title Revenge has very little to do with the actual stories, so don’t let that mislead you either.
Those who are familiar with Ogawa’s work know that her stories are subtle but dark and often twisted. I don’t think these eleven tales will keep you awake at night, but they might make you… suspicious. I felt the same when reading Ogawa’s The Diving Pool and I think, after reading Revenge, I would now probably appreciate The Diving Pool more for its creepiness. So yes, in Revenge the creepiness is definitely there, and mix that with these interwoven tales and you get an absolutely genius book.
I loved Revenge and once I started – especially after the third story – I just couldn’t put it down. It’s my fourth book by Yōko Ogawa and by far my favourite. Sadly, that also means I have now worked my way through all English translations. Thankfully her work seems alive and recent. Revenge was the last title to be translated to English in January 2013, and Ogawa seems to fare well outside Japan (translations to English, German, French, Polish, Greek and Italian, among others), so I hope we can expect more translations in the near future!