The Diving Pool by Yoko Ogawa 

The Diving Pool

by Yoko Ogawa

translated by Stephen Snyder

Published by Picador

176 pages, 2008

Buy it online



Murky Depths

Reviewed by Cherie Thiessen

The three pithy works contained in this new publication are as sleek and muscular as Jun, the young diver in the first story. He’s the oldest child at the Light House, an orphanage run by Aya’s parents, who are also church leaders. Aya is the narrator; she’s the only one who’s not an orphan, although she has often wished she were:

...If I could have one of the tragic histories so common at the Light House -- an alcoholic mother, a homicidal father, parents lost to death or abandonment, anything at all -- then I would have been a proper orphan.

Because in many ways she is orphaned. Her parents are too busy for her, treating their only child no differently than their wards. It’s not surprising, therefore, that this emotionally neglected young girl pours all of her love and devotion into the young athlete who has grown up with her. Jun has been at the Light House for ten years now, but familiarity does not breed contempt for Aya. Her feelings are far from sisterly. She’s obsessed with Jun, spending almost all of her time out of school sitting in the bleachers watching him practice his beloved diving.

When she’s not in the bleachers, she’s hanging around the home hoping to bump into him, and it seems that this perfect young man might feel the same way. Perhaps this story could have had a happy ending, had Aya not needed to externalize her pain and loneliness. Her victim is a toddler, Rie, whom she discovers she enjoys tormenting in order to see her cry because...

When we grow up, we find ways to hide our anxieties, our loneliness, our fear and sorrow. But children hide nothing, putting everything into their tears, which they spread liberally about for the whole world to see. I wanted to savor every one of Rie’s tears, to run my tongue over the damp, festering, vulnerable places in her heart and open the wounds even wider.

Distressing as the actions are, most of us will understand their origins. In the surprise ending, and Aya’s lack of remorse, however, we begin to see how natural feelings have been inverted into unnatural ones, and how malevolence can coexist with benevolence.

The Diving Pool explores the depth of our complicated, darker natures and doesn’t sanitize anything in the process. It is, nevertheless, a moral tale and there may be potentially devastating retribution for the young girl.

The second novella, Pregnancy Diary, is even bleaker and more complex, hinting at the emotional wreckage the early and tragic death of both parents has had on the surviving siblings. Which sister is the more disturbed? In whose fantasies are we immersed?

Don’t read the last tale, Dormitory, alone at night. This grotesque story is full of dark twists and turns, although readers may try to see some sticky hope at horror’s end. You will be left with questions: Why is the young wife not trying to find and rescue her cousin? What’s behind the strange inertia infecting her right from the beginning? What would she find behind her cousin’s locked door? And what is really happening to the landlord? Lucky this book is slim. It’s a collection you are probably going to be driven to read more than once.

We are indebted to Stephen Snyder for making this author available to us. Japanese readers have been enjoying these particular novellas since the early 1990s but the first most North Americans have heard of Ogawa was in 2005, when Snyder’s translation of Pregnancy Diary was published in The New Yorker. Picador, Ogawa’s North American publisher, promises more of this scholar’s translations of this prolific Japanese writer’s work, will be published this year. | January 2008

Cherie Thiessen has been a scriptwriter, playwright, creative writing instructor and -- for the past 10 years -- a travel writer and book reviewer. She was the review columnist for Focus on Women Magazine for eight years and has also written numerous reviews for magazines including BC Bookworld, Monday Magazine, Pacific Yachting, Cottage Magazine, The Driftwood News, Linnear Reflections and Douglas College's Event Magazine.