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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Diving Pool

Ogawa Yoko

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To purchase The Diving Pool

Title: The Diving Pool
Author: Ogawa Yoko
Genre: Fiction
Written: 1990/1 (Eng. 2008)
Length: 164 pages
Original in: Japanese
Availability: The Diving Pool - US
The Diving Pool - UK
The Diving Pool - Canada
The Diving Pool - India
La piscine - Les abeilles - La grossesse - France
Schwimmbad im Regen - Deutschland
  • Three Novellas
  • Translated by Stephen Snyder
  • Japanese titles: ダイヴィング・プール (1990), 妊娠カレンダー and ドミトリイ (both 1991)
  • Pregnancy Diary first appeared, in slightly different form, in The New Yorker, and 'The Diving Pool' in Zoetrope
  • 'Pregnancy Diary' was awarded the 1990 Akutagawa Prize

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Our Assessment:

B+ : great tone, but feel limited

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Bookforum . 2-3/2008 Laura Stokes
Entertainment Weekly B 18/1/2008 Allyssa Lee
Financial Times . 18/8/2008 Elisabeth Field
FAZ . 2/3/2004 Steffen Gnam
The Guardian A 2/8/2008 Joanna Briscoe
The Independent . 8/8/2008 Victoria James
The NY Times Book Rev. . 23/3/2008 Alison McCulloch
San Francisco Chronicle . 24/2/2008 Jerome Weeks
The Telegraph . 2/8/2008 Alastair Sooke
The Washington Post . 17/2/2008 Janice P. Nimura
Die Zeit . 17/7/2003 Hubert Winkels

  From the Reviews:
  • "The strength of Ogawa's writing lies in its visceral content. Emotions that might cause recoil instead draw one in by their very familiarity, and she can make cruelty seem desirable, even pleasurable." - Laura Stokes, Bookforum

  • "Instead of sitting idly by, the women act out against their circumstances in subtle and sinister ways, shaking these seemingly complacent tales into something far more twisted and unsettling." - Allyssa Lee, Entertainment Weekly

  • "The meticulous detail with which Ogawa depicts even the most mundane of scenes is almost Gothic. Yet the narrative voice’s clinical timbre leaves an often sinister, even queasy feeling with the reader. Elegant, intelligent, quietly disturbing." - Elisabeth Field, Financial Times

  • "(D)rei leisere, morbide-beschauliche, hinter- und abgründige Erzählungen und Psychogramme (.....) In subtiler Komposition werden einander ergänzende Geschichten über Einsamkeit, Erwachsenwerden und Entfremdung verwoben." - Steffen Gnam, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "Ogawa is a conspicuously gifted writer, and this small showcase of three novellas must surely create a readership for her particular brand of unnerving, translucent restraint. Not a word is wasted, yet each resonates with a blend of poetry and tension." - Joanna Briscoe, The Guardian

  • "The works chosen here are perhaps too similar in structure and conceit. But The Diving Pool is a welcome introduction to an author whose suggestive, unsettling storytelling speaks volumes by leaving things unsaid." - Victoria James, The Independent

  • "Still waters run dark in these bright yet eerie novellas, whose crisp, almost guileless prose hides unexpected menace." - Alison McCulloch, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Each of these stories finds a different balance between which is stranger -- the narrator or the events she encounters. That balance shifts away from the narrator as the collection progresses; nonetheless, Ogawa's narrators are almost spectral, glassine. If it weren't for their conflicted desires and the twisted ways they're made manifest, the narrators would barely exist. They're never described; they're marginal, aimless, underemployed. They'd be sad if they weren't so creepy." - Jerome Weeks, San Francisco Chronicle

  • "(A) fine collection of three queasily unsettling novellas (.....) Ogawa frequently clusters together images of rot and decay, but because her writing is so parsimonious, nothing feels strained or overdone (in this, she is no doubt aided by Stephen Snyder's understated translation)." - Alastair Sooke, The Telegraph

  • "Ogawa's fiction reflects like a funhouse mirror, skewing conventional responses, juxtaposing images weirdly. Depending on the viewer, it can induce wonder or a vague nausea. (...) Her hallucinatory, oddly barbed stories snag the imagination, and linger." - Janice P. Nimura, The Washington Post

  • "Sie inszenieren allesamt subtile Körperdramen, choreografieren sie präzis und mustergültig. Aber woran will sich hier der Alte und woran wollen sich die vielen jungen Frauen in den beiden Romanen und den drei Erzählungen der 41-jährigen Japanerin Yoko Ogawa überhaupt erinnern ? Auf keinen Fall an lebhafte Erfahrung." - Hubert Winkels, Die Zeit

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The Diving Pool collects three stories by Ogawa Yoko, each narrated by a young woman living very much in her own world. In each the voice and tone, subdued but firm, is near-masterful, the three narrating characters eerily real, but even in the most rounded-off of the stories there's a sense of incompleteness: these are very short novellas, scenes-from-a-life narratives that fit uneasily between simple story and full-blown novel. One wishes for more -- though because each of the narrators is herself missing something this sense of incompleteness is also fitting, and adds to the effect of the stories.
       In the title story he narrator is a teenage girl whose parents run a church and orphanage; she is "the only child who is not an orphan, a fact that has disfigured my family". She's obsessed by one of her foster brothers, Jun, who has found an outlet in diving, sneaking off, for example, to watch him practice. She's grown up with him, but her feelings and their relationship have changed, from playing like brother and sister to what is now her tightly held and aching teenage crush which he seems unaware of.
       The story describes little more than a few scenes, and some memories, but is a powerful evocation of teenage (self-)obsession. She thinks herself unobserved, whether watching Jun or otherwise, almost all her thoughts and reflections turned tightly inward; devastatingly Jun reveals to her near the end: "I was always watching you." She goes through the motions of participating in the family and day-to-day life, but it's in that typical teenage daze. And when she thinks no one can see her she acts unconscionably towards an innocent, beautiful scenes of teenage cruelty bubbling up seemingly from nowhere.
       'Pregnancy Diary' is the diary of a woman who lives with her sister and brother-in-law, as she keeps track of the course of her sister's pregnancy. They're not particularly well off, with the narrator's part-time job involving flogging food-samples at one supermarket after another, all over the city. There's an aimlessness about her, and though she has strong feelings there's a general sense of drift to her life.
       Her sister eventually gets morning sickness so violent that she can't bear the smell of any food (leading the narrator to cook outdoors), and then is overcome by cravings.
       Quite a bit of the diary is devoted to the sister's medical visits, but she doesn't just visit the M Clinic maternity hospital: for ten years she's been seeing a psychiatrist -- though the narrator says: "I can't see that she's got any better." But she feels better going to her appointments:

     "It's like when they're shampooing your hair at the salon," she said. "The feeling that someone's taking care of you -- it's wonderful." Her eyes narrowed with pleasure at the thought of him.
       They used to play in the gardens of the M Clinic -- and peep through the windows -- and now it is a place where "time seemed to have stopped", a connexion to lost childhood for both of them. The story concludes with the narrator going to the M Clinic, where her sister has gone to give birth, the scene one of time even more arrested than one had previously thought .....
       In the final story, 'Dormitory', the narrator arranges for a cousin she hasn't heard from in years to stay at the same dormitory she lived at when she was a student, now that he's starting his studies. She hadn't been back since graduating, but now becomes obsessed again by it, an almost abandoned place that has been in a long decline, accelerated now because a student mysteriously disappeared from there. Once he's moved in she goes repeatedly to visit her cousin but usually only finds the Manager -- a triple amputee left only with one leg (but remarkably capable). Meanwhile, her husband is working in Sweden and eventually wants her to join him -- a request (or demand) she seems unable to deal with, preferring to focus her attentions on her old dormitory.
       Ogawa has a nice way of presenting the strange. These narrators recount their stories with a controlled calm, but each story has moments when it becomes clear that these women are, in fact, deeply disturbed. Ogawa captures these derangements beautifully, especially the contrast to their outward normality.
       These are often remarkable reads, but limited by their form(at). They are more than just stories, but also barely novellas. If anything they read like chapters from novels, and hence feel incomplete.
       Still, well worthwhile.

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The Diving Pool: Reviews: Other books by Ogawa Yoko under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Japanese author Ogawa Yoko (小川 洋子) was born in 1962.

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© 2008-2023 the complete review

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