Literary Saloon
Site of Review.

Trying to meet all your book preview and review needs.

the Best
the Rest
Review Index




to e-mail us:

support the site

In Association with Amazon.com

In association with Amazon.com - UK

In association with Amazon.ca - Canada

the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Ogawa Yoko

general information | our review | links | about the author

Title: 凍りついた香り
Author: Ogawa Yoko
Genre: Novel
Written: 1998
Length: 318 pages
Original in: Japanese
Availability: Parfum de glace - France
Der Duft von Eis - Deutschland
Profumo di ghiaccio - Italia
Perfume de hielo - España
  • 凍りついた香り has not yet been translated into English

- Return to top of the page -

Our Assessment:

B+ : neatly developed and explored

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

[凍りついた香り has not yet been translated into English, and this review is based on Sabine Mangold's German translation, Der Duft von Eis (2022). All quotes are my translations from that translation.]

       凍りついた香り -- 'the perfume/scent of ice' -- is narrated by Ryoko. The freelance journalist had lived with Hiroyuki, an immensely gifted perfumer, for just a year when he suddenly committed suicide, leaving no note or real clues as to why. The novel opens with Ryoko on her way to Prague; at that point, it's been a while since Hiroyuki died, but she is still searching for answers. The novel then moves back and forth between her memories of Hiroyuki's death, her time with him, and then her attempt to understand what led him to this act, including spending time with Hiroyuki's younger brother and their mother.
       Ryoko knew Hiroyuki only as an incredibly talented perfumer, familiar with every possible scent. As she learns, she didn't know much about Hiroyuki at all. Indeed, few did: he did not reveal much and, for example, the CV he had submitted when he applied for the job at the parfumerie was made up from A to Z (even the birth-date was inaccurate). (Meanwhile, had told Ryoko he had worked for a pesticide company before getting the perfume-job, but that too was a lie; typically for their relationship she apparently didn't ask anything about that (supposed) experience, despite how out of character it must have seemed to her.)
       Ryoko meets Hiroyuki's brother, Akira, at the mortuary, and begins to learn more about the man she had been so close to. Among the discoveries is that Hiroyuki was a very talented figure skater, impressively able to trace any path anyone inked on the ice blindfolded -- and that he had still regularly gone skating, without ever sharing that with Ryoko. He was also a mathematical prodigy, winning many competitions in his youth -- before abruptly stopping at age sixteen, and then also abandoning his mother and brother at age eighteen, after the death of his father. Ryoko did know he had a way with numbers, and a sense of order, but could never have imagined that he was so extraordinarily gifted in this regard as well.
       Hiroyuki abandoned mathematics during a competition that took place in Prague, and that is why Ryoko eventually travels to the source. (She's also astonished that he ever traveled in a plane, since her experience had taught her that he would have panic-attacks in any kind of motorized vehicle and never traveled anywhere, even by subway.) Ryoko is annoyed that the Prague-guide arranged by the travel agency speaks no Japanese -- as she had specifically requested -- but she and Jeniak get on alright, and she is able to visit most of the places she had hoped to -- though information about what happened there fifteen years earlier is still hard to root out.
       Ryoko and Hiroyuki had celebrated their one-year anniversary of living together the day before he died, and he had given her a perfume he had created especially for her -- and its scent of 'source/fountain of remembrance' (記憶の泉) haunts her for much of her journeys after his death. 'A smell always refers to something past', Hiroyuki had told her. Early on, she mentions never having opened the bottle of perfume again after his death, for fear of losing the scent, until nothing was left of it: yes, for a long time, she literally keeps it -- and all her feelings about Hiroyuki -- bottled up.
       With Akira, and then especially visiting the family home, where the mother carefully watches over Hiroyuki's many trophies, Ryoko begins to get more of a sense of Hiroyuki's accomplishments and abilities -- and quirks -- but it takes a long time for a full picture to emerge. Only in the conclusion do Ryoko and Akira learn what Hiroyuki had really been doing for almost a decade after he left home.
       There are elements of the surreal to Ryoko's journey, especially then in Prague, where she finds herself in a strange greenhouse with a keeper of peacocks -- drawn there by a familiar smell -- who is able to help her make some of the connections with Hiroyuki. Aspects of the regular world are also off-kilter, from Hiroyuki and Akira's mother to the tiny but very realistic models Akira builds as a hobby. A general sort of reticence, an unwillingness not just to pry but simply to ask sometimes obvious questions, is widespread too, from Akira taking it for granted that Ryoko knows much of what he does about his brother (she doesn't), to Ryoko's own cautious handling of Hiroyuki when they lived together.
       Hiroyuki's perfectionism -- and his ability to achieve it, in such a variety of fields -- is handled in an interesting way by Ogawa, and Ryoko's own obsession, to learn more about him, an interesting contrast in a novel that shifts -- sways, practically -- so easily back and forth between the everyday and the exceptional. If Ryoko herself remains something of a mystery-woman to the reader -- we learn very little about her --, that too is fitting for a novel in which so many characters prove to be, in many ways, unknowable and yet their essence comes to be realized (so also in, for example, the relationships that develop between Ryoko and Akira, or Ryoko and Jeniak (who basically can't communicate at all in language and yet still come to understand one another)).
       If Hiroyuki's suicide is, in some ways, treated almost casually, the novel does ultimately show just how deeply it affects Ryoko -- whereby discovering the truth (or at least more) about Hiroyuki in fact mostly serves simply as a way for Ryoko to channel her grief.
       凍りついた香り is a somewhat odd story, but an engaging and also moving one. Ogawa's incidental observations and scenes offer her usual quirky charm, the quirk only occasionally feeling too forced; the general sense of reserve to the novel and the characters works to good effect. (It's also interesting to compare this early work to the rest of her œuvre, with her already playing here with many familiar elements and tropes.)

- M.A.Orthofer, 24 March 2023

- Return to top of the page -


凍りついた香り: Reviews: Other books by Ogawa Yoko under review: Other books of interest under review:

- Return to top of the page -

About the Author:

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

- Return to top of the page -

© 2023 the complete review

Main | the New | the Best | the Rest | Review Index | Links