So after a disastrous Valentine’s Day (is there any other kind?), I was in the mood for revenge, or at least a haunting collection of short horror stories. Perhaps they’re one in the same – at the very least they’re fulfilling the same purpose. Regardless, in a rather dour emotional state, I picked up the gothic, murderous Revenge and I’m so glad I did.
Revenge: Eleven Dark Tales is by Japanese author Yoko Ogawa, translated by Stephen Snyder. It took fifteen years to reach English readers and it was certainly worth the wait (though I would not complain if they shortened the wait on any future books). Although it is a set of eleven short stories, they are so cunningly intertwined that they should be read as a novel. Each story feeds into the next, with food often being the common thread.
In an attempt to summarize a book that defies description:
A girl meets her estranged father for the first time, and then hides her grief in the consumption of kiwis hidden in an abandoned post office. An aspiring novelist lives across the courtyard from her bizarre landlady who, during covert midnight runs, mysteriously hides her kiwi crop. A surgeon, while trapped on a train, reminisces about his novelist stepmother who used to tell him strange stories about her former landlady. A woman, having an affair with a married surgeon, threatens to kill him if he does not leave his wife. His wife, while contemplating confronting the woman, gleefully runs over pristine tomatoes spilling from a car crash. Years later the aspiring novelist harvests the same tomatoes and gives them to a hotel, who serves them on their lunch salads.
You get the idea; though I’ve omitted a great deal of what makes the stories so delightful (I do realize what I find delightful, others find disturbing, so consider them synonymous). Much of the horror that takes place is implied or referenced in an offhand manner (particularly ‘Welcome to the Museum of Torture’). The characters are often ambiguous (as is time and place), defying identification and creating an underlying current of psychological unease. The chimerical world Ogawa creates, combined with the horrors her characters encounter, make Revenge a collection worth reveling in. I suggest you do so.
Of note, if you suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, mild melancholia, or a general dislike of the macabre (do such people exist?), this book may not be for you (unless you are feeling particularly masochistic). It’s dark, depressing, and full of death.
I cannot recommend it enough.
If you happen to like this book, read the following (it’s been too long since I’ve promoted the extraordinary Donald Ray Pollack):
There is this one scene where a human body is crushed, but the delicate tomatoes he was carrying remain untouched. These pristine tomatoes are then fed to unknowing hotel guests. I like tomatoes, I like them even more in a sauce (or salsa), so I am recommending a spicy tomato sauce. Who says revenge is best served cold?
Besides Pierre Choderlos de Laclos.