I picked up this slim volume of three enticing novellas during one of my scouts of the excellent Oxfam bookshops in London recently. I was intrigued by the cover and the discovery of an international author I had not read before whose credentials intrigue but I was sold by the quote on the cover by Nobel Prize-winning author Kenzaburō Ōe.
“Yoko Ogawa is able to give expression to the most subtle workings of human psychology in prose that is gentle yet penetrating.”
Yoko Ogawa for those like me who have not come across her before, has published more than twenty works of fiction and nonfiction, she has won every major Japanese literary award and her fiction has also appeared in The New Yorker, A Public Space
From unknown to me until the last couple of months, I wander into my local bookshop this week and see Ogawa’s more recently published novella ‘The Housekeeper and the Professor’ sitting on a small table next to Murakami’s big fat ‘1Q84’ and Jonathan Franzen’s sizeable ‘Freedom’, names that need no introduction. So in anticipation of reading a second of her lovely slim books, I will tell you about the first.
‘The Diving Pool’ is both the title of this collection and the first of three novellas contained within; it introduces us to Aya, an introverted teenage girl with foster orphan siblings who feels distant from her family, yet finds a closeness being in the proximity of and observing her foster brother without his knowledge – she sits in the bleachers and studies his form, watching him with obsessive infatuation as he executes each flawless dive with his smooth, sculpted body. The depths of her infatuation rarely break the surface and spill over into engagement or physical contact though she desires it; she does not provoke, she wills it.
Ogawa depicts the girl’s keen observations and cruel impulse with the precision of a surgeon’s knife, slicing into the mind of a daughter with a disturbing transparency that entices the reader to continue to see just how far she will go.
It is a story that is worth rereading a second time from a writing perspective, not just the carefully crafted words, but what it is that the author does to create that effect of getting under your skin when reading it. I’ll definitely be adding her next book to my collection, her evocative style is addictive indeed.