A Dish Best Not Served

Revenge: Eleven Dark Tales
By Yoko Ogawa
162 pp. Picador. $17.

I probably wind up keeping around 90% of the books I buy, which is undoubtedly why I have far too many. As for the remaining 10%, they usually find their way onto a separate stack bound for the next used bookshop I come across. As of last night, having just set this collection down, I was wavering on whether or not it was worth keeping. Alas, daylight has brought with it the understanding that it’s just not worth finding space for.

You can’t them all with you …

I enjoyed this collection, mostly. But I was also disappointed by it. I special ordered it, which is something I almost never do — better and more exciting to just stumble on chance upon a sought-after book in a bookshop — after a friend recommended it highly. A year or two ago, Ogawa could be found on all the bookshop tables in the form of her most recently translated novel, “The Memory Police,” but I was urged to start with this collection of short stories first.

The stories in “Revenge” are all interconnected, something I didn’t realize until three or four stories in, and this makes me admire the collection more. Maybe, on rereading, I would uncover links to other stories I missed the first time around. But while linking all the stories in a collection is a cool device, the stories at the same time should be able to move you on their own, and none of the stories here really did that. They were all just … fine. Not great, not bad. Just fine.

The blurbs on the back compare Ogawa’s work to that of Haruki Murakami, but other than the fact that both are Japanese, I find no real similarity between them — at least, not based on this collection.

The subtitle here is “Eleven Dark Tales” and while most of these are tales are what one could call “dark,” they’re somewhat disappointingly so. This is no Patricia Highsmith. Whatever ill deeds take place in these pages feel almost like an afterthought and, accordingly, my reaction was usually little more than a shrug, never a gasp.

None of these stories could be called anything like “scary.” Creepy, yes, but the creepiest thing about them is perhaps how little emotion can be detected in them. They feel oddly cold and detached. And maybe that’s the point.

If you should come across a copy, wandering the shelves of your local used bookstore, then by all means give it a read. But unless you’re already a fan of Ogawa’s, it’s hardly worth special ordering.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s