The Diving Pool

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Title: The Diving Pool and Other Stories (original title: (ダイヴィング・プール)

Writer: Yoko Ogawa (translated by Stephen Snyder)

Publishing House: Vintage Publishing

Date of Publication: April 2nd 2014 (first published 1990)

Rating: 5 stars

‘’Since I was a little girl, I’ve disliked the thirtieth of December. I could always get through the thirty-first by telling myself that the year was finally over, but the thirtieth was confusing somehow, neither here, nor there. Cooking the traditional New Year’s dinner, cleaning the house, shopping – none of my tasks were completely finished.’’

Yoko Ogawa deserves a very long chapter in the Bible of World Literature. She epitomises all that is brilliant and glorious and exciting about the Short Story genre, she represents the finest features of Japanese Literature. She contains every theme and every feeling in paragraphs like these:

‘’It was a beautiful day outside. Sunlight covered the ground like a shower of gold dust. The shadows of trembling ginkgo leaves were etched sharply on the wall of the church, and the breeze blowing through the curtains carried the first hints of summer.’’

‘’It’s peaceful eating outside by myself, looking up at the night sky. The evenings are warmer now that spring is almost here, and the air feels soft. My hands and feet pressed against the mat are dull and numb, but everything else – the crepe myrtle, the bricks lining the flower beds, the twinkling stars – is sharp and clear. Except for a dog barking in the distance, the evening is perfectly still.’’

The Diving Pool: A young girl watches her foster brother as he engages in his favourite hobby, diving in the local pool. Her feelings for him are mixed with her resentment towards her family and their way of living. She gradually loses control of her actions and the outcome is deeply perplexing.

‘’Everything was bathed in light. The windshields of the cars in the street seemed to glow, and the spray from the fountain in the park sparkled. I walked along, staring at the ground and mopping the sweat from my face. Two children in straw hats ran past. The gate to the elementary school was closed, and the playground was deserted. Farther on there was a small florist’s, but I saw no sign of a salesperson or any customers. A tiny bunch of baby’s breath lay in the glass case.’’

Pregnancy Diary: A young woman creates a chronicle of her sister’s morning sickness and daily moods during her pregnancy. What starts as simple, daily -if acute- musings on the upcoming change in their lives quickly become an uncanny, troubling sequence of a mental break-down and a disturbing view of the insecurity that comes with being a mother.

‘’It was audible only at certain moments, and not necessarily when I wanted to hear it. I heard it once as I was staring out at the lights of the city from the window of the last bus of the evening, and another time at the entrance to the old museum, as a melancholy young woman handed me a ticket without looking up. The sound came suddenly and unpredictably.’’

Dormitory: A woman returns to the college of her youth, as she prepares to join her husband in Sweden. In this cryptic and bitter story, we enter a world of whispers, slander and despair while a wounded man is trying to make peace with the ghosts of the past.

You are never safe in the world of Yoko Ogawa. And this is a token of her immense talent. It’s a shame that books like this one pass under the radar while piles and piles of…paper garbage are becoming more and more…popular. 

‘’But somehow, even though I was alone, I wasn’t afraid. In the middle of the storm, I felt quite calm – the sort of peace that comes from being far away from everyday life. The storm had carried me off to a distant place that I could never have reached on my own. I had no idea where it was, but I knew that it was peaceful, I lay in the darkness listening to the storm, trying to see this far-off place.’’