Wednesday, 1 June 2011

the diving pool [yoko ogawa]

The Diving Pool is the second of Ogawa's books I've read in quick succession. This is a collection of three novelas. All three are told from the point of view of a female voice, each one on the point of alienation from her society. In The Diving Pool, a young woman lives with her religious parents who act as foster parents to a bunch of children; inspiring in the narrator complex passions of both lust and a muted sadism as she guiltlessly terrorises her younger foster sister. In Pregnancy Diary, the narrator is herself subjected to her pregnant sister's self-indulgent whims; in the final part a woman who is putting off moving to Sweden to join her husband who has a job there finds herself drawn into the menacing world of a nearly limbless caretaker.

There is more to Ogawa's writing than their featherweight narratives. She is what they might call a consummate stylist. There's that pleasure to be gleaned from reading her work of knowing that every sentence has been worked on, but not in an abrasive, ponderous manner. Rather they have been honed and polished, the rough wooden edges of words rendered now as smooth, yet unexpected, as a mirror. Ogawa succeeds in making the physical tangible: food has a curious presence in her prose, it's something alluring but also potentially revolting. Nature is Herzogian: as liable to sting as it is to caress. The depiction of the caretaker who has no arms and only one leg would appear to be something out of a horror movie, and the story feels as though it belongs to that genre, but the careful, cruel-comic descriptions of his method of making tea or opening a door gives the piece another dimension: maybe this man in not so much a figure from a horror story, more a self-sufficient hero? Ogawa's naive narrator opens up this space and the story is defined not just by what it tells, but also by what it might become; the writer playing with the reader's expectations in a delicate game of literary charades.

The interesting thing is that it's the featherweight nature of the narrative that allows the writing to get away with this level of suppressed potential: she leaves her audience wanting to know more. And we are happy to be teased like this on this scale; it never reaches the point of becoming grating. What we don't know is as important as what we're told. The unwritten text perfectly complementing the written text.

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