Yoko Ogawa. Now that I have read many of her works, the name itself inspires this vision of utter coolness. I can almost feel a thin sheet of ice on my body as I go through what she writes. This sustained feeling of aloofness and chilly discord never quite leave you till the very end, and perhaps not even after the book leaves your hand. The craftsmanship runs a lot deeper than just being words on pages, they leave you with a physical coldness that is not entirely easy to shrug off.
The three stories in The Diving Pool are vastly away from each other, yet really not. Can such a divide exist? Yes, it can. The underlying vein in this book as a whole rhythmically gives off a vibe that can be said is true for all three of the stories; a vibrant strain of loneliness. This begs the question; can loneliness be vibrant? As a matter of fact, it can be. Loneliness is hardly a dilapidated feeling, it is vicious and most alive and when it gets under your skin, it can unleash its horror unlike anything else. But what separates these stories however, are the three main characters. All three of them respond differently to this central menacing beat.
In the first, the protagonist Aya is shown to be a quiet reserved individual with a passion for a boy called Jun and equal cruelty for a child called Rye. Her personality is fraught with demands that may even be unknown to her. What makes it most interesting is her surrender to her urges without a thought; she watches Jun with an abundance day after day as he plunges into the water, his body rippling and she lets baby Rye eat a rotten croissant with equal ease and fervour. The beauty is in the way Ogawa treats the subject without judgement and I believe she expects the same from her readers. The confluence of the protagonist’s rather extraordinary traits is a rare treat.
In the second, the protagonist follows her sister’s pregnancy with a morbid curiosity; morbid as it lacks the care but has the curiosity to document it in detail. Again we find a woman fangled with deep strangeness, with no apparent reason accounting for that strangeness. Ogawa, with her immense finesse, portrays all details with a fascinating indifference that seeps through all that she writes about them. Her characters also proactively live up to that level of nonchalance and give us this settling piece of prose where we cannot really fathom it all.
In the third and last, we see a kind woman, a departure from the previous two, caught up in an anomaly that is unbeknown to her as well. While trying to help her cousin find a place to live, she goes back to her days in her dormitory, the enigmatic ‘Manager’ who runs the place and a ‘rumour’ that sweeps her up in a motion that she wasn’t counting on. We witness history and supernatural in a rundown building that promises safety but has none to offer.
I think we can safely say that Ogawa likes textures. The more variant it is, the better. Also it’s no mean feat that she has the actual skills to make that happen in a huge cohesive sticky manner. Japanese literature, once again, has a winner.