Yoko Ogawa’s collection of novellas, “The Diving Pool,” plunges the reader into three psychologically tense stories. Across each tale, the characters subvert expectation with distanced cruelty as Ogawa considers three landmarks in life: first love, pregnancy and wifehood.
The titular novella juxtaposes teenage Aya’s sexual desires with her fixation on sadism. Aya’s parents run a religious orphanage and her romantic attentions become focused on Jun, a long-term resident and competitive diver. Simultaneously, her sadism targets the youngest orphan, trapping the vulnerable toddler in an urn, poisoning her with a rotten cream cake. It’s a coldly etched portrait of competing passions.
“Pregnancy Diary” follows, in which a woman keeps a log of her sister’s pregnancy, recording her obsessions with smell and food with clinical precision and cruel jealousy. Winner of the Akutagawa Prize, the ambiguous ending strikes a perfect chord of tension between estranged sisters, tethered together by their shared history.
Finally, “Dormitory” enters the realm of horror fiction before skimming into a psychologically taut meditation on the senses. A woman recommends her old college dormitory to her cousin looking for cheap accommodations. Run by a mysterious triple amputee, the woman is drawn into revisiting this enigmatic manager as she waits endlessly for her cousin, distracted by an unidentified buzzing sound and garishly vibrant flowers. It’s an unsettling, unexpected piece of writing, what you’ll come to expect from this slim volume.