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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Ogawa Yoko

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Title: 余白の愛
Author: Ogawa Yoko
Genre: Novel
Written: 1991
Length: 240 pages
Original in: Japanese
Availability: Amours en marge - France
Liebe am Papierrand - Deutschland
  • 余白の愛 has not been translated into English yet

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Our Assessment:

B+ : simple but effective

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
FAZ . 24/1/2005 Maria Frisé

  From the Reviews:
  • "Nichts in diesem Roman scheint ohne Bedeutung. Doch die Rätsel dieser verhaltenen fernöstlichen Liebesgeschichte lassen sich auch am Schluß nicht vollständig lösen. (...) Fühlen, nicht denken scheint Yoko Okawa zu fordern. Nur so führt die Spur hinaus aus den verworrenen Windungen der Erinnerung." - Maria Frisé, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

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:

[This review is based on the German translation of 余白の愛 by Ursula Gräfe and Kimiko Nakayama-Ziegler, Liebe am Papierrand.]

       Ogawa Toko's 余白の愛 is narrated by a woman suffering from an ear condition. The novel opens with her describing the first time she met Y., two days after she had been released from the Ear Nose and Throat clinic she was being treated at, at an old hotel right behind the clinic where she and several others suffering from a variety of hearing-impairing conditions discussed these for the benefit of a journalist planning a magazine article on the subject -- with Y. there as the note-taking stenographer. The get-together is apparently too much for her, as she has a relapse and checks back into the clinic soon later.
       The narrator's ailment involves being extremely sensitive to sound, with every noise amplified terribly so that even everyday noises make for a roaring cacophony in her ears. When it was her turn to describe her ailment for the magazine article she admitted that, while she suspected her ears had always been this way, this suffering only started the day after her husband left her. She denies a causal connection, obvious though it would seem; such an explanation simply seems too simple to her.
       In her mid-twenties, she had been married for three years. She had never held a job, and after she is released from the ENT clinic she finds it difficult to find one; since her husband -- who otherwise neatly, coldly, entirely divides his life from hers -- is willing to support her until she gets back on her feet again there at least isn't that much urgency to it. The months described in 余白の愛 are nominally a period of recovery from her debilitating ear ailment, but what she is actually working through is a much more complex set of emotional and personal issues -- reaching back to childhood --, all triggered by her husband's betrayal, the collapse of her marriage a collapse of her would-be adult expectations of a shared and predictable life.
       Y. plays a central role in the process. She is immediately taken by him -- or not so much him as his fingers, which she fixates on. The two connect, with the narrator also fascinated by his indecipherable writing, a code that nevertheless captures everything but remains inaccessible to her. She imagines it is interesting for him to hear all the stories that he transcribes, but he explains that a stenographer can't be interested in the actual content. As he describes it, he is simply a medium; as such, he is also the ideal vessel to help her work through her issues.
       The narrator eventually comes to ask him to 'put his fingers at the disposal of her ears' -- to transcribe her story. This is a final symbolic working-through of her ailment for her -- all the more obviously symbolic when Y. explains that he only has a limited number of the special pages of paper he uses at his disposal for her narrative, and when he won't let her keep any of them, insisting the entire set of pages has to be kept together, stored away in a drawer, just as he does with all his other transcriptions.
       Aside from her husband, whom she sees only because he wants to settle their affairs and make a very clean break, and Y. the narrator has little personal contact with anyone. The one other prominent figure in her life is her attentive thirteen-year-old nephew, Hiro, who helps her out when he can.
       The past also haunts this story, from a childhood experience seeing Beethoven's ear-trumpet in a museum and memories of a boy when he was Hiro's age, to the hotel behind the ENT clinic, where the aristocratic family that used to live there suffered a tragedy that led to the tearing down of the prominent balcony on the facade. Stray stories and images are mentioned -- a violin and that ear-trumpet among them --, taking on new significance as they resurface in other forms through the narrative -- a favorite device of Ogawa's and one she handles well. Ogawa also excels at evocative haunting imagery, such as the jasmine-room in the hotel, and Y.'s explanations of how the jasmine smell used to suffuse the entire building for an hour each night -- a smell that lingers even now, long after the jasmine plants have been removed. (Smells, sounds, sights, taste, touch: Ogawa uses the five senses to the hilt, yet without making it seem too forced.)
       The novel culminates in a birthday celebration, as Y. and Hiro join the narrator for a fine lunch, and then find themselves having trouble getting home as snowfall paralyzes the city. They eventually get on a bus, and when they get off stumble into an unusual museum (another favorite Ogawa-feature) -- with a prominent object from the narrator's past. When the narrator later tries to revisit the museum she, of course, can't find it -- just as when she tries to trace Y. she is led somewhere unanticipated.
       Ogawa's artful description and presentation is a blend of the realistic and the hallucinatory -- her art being in keeping it unclear where the boundaries are, as it remains unclear just how much the narrator actually experienced, and how much she simply imagined. Even as so much seems plausible and grounded in the real -- Ogawa cleverly allowing her narrator's account to walk us through the mundane and everyday in what seem to be anything-but-flights of fantasy, things that would seem to be a waste of the imagination. Between that and the recurring imagery and memories -- after-echoes reverberating gently but to cumulative effect in the story -- she builds a surprisingly powerful story. What seems so simple and straightforward -- even a little banal, at times -- is satisfyingly brought together -- even also as little about how the story concludes is truly surprising,
       This isn't a big or loud novel (despite the cacophony the narrator suffers), indeed, it can seem almost subdued, but in how everything fits, and in much of Ogawa's haunting descriptions, it is a gently satisfying read.

- M.A.Orthofer, 12 December 2015

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余白の愛: 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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