Readalong One: ‘The Diving Pool’ by Yōko Ogawa

Welcome to the home page for the first of our two January in Japan readalongs 🙂  The first of our choices is Yoko Ogawa’s collection of three novellas, The Diving Pool, and below you’ll find links to the reviews and thoughts of all the readalong participants (this will be updated as I become aware of the posts!).

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Before that though, I just thought I’d leave a few posers for people to ponder (and perhaps reply to in the comments sections):

1) Which was your favourite story (and why)?
2) Bearing in mind that these stories were published individually in the original language, do you think the book worked well as a collection?
3) Did the slightly dark tone enhance your enjoyment of the stories, or would you have preferred a lighter approach?

If you’d like to comment on these questions (or anything else…), please feel free to 😉  And now, the reviews…

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About Tony

Championing the wonders of fiction in translation... ...but quietly (the kids are asleep...).
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16 Responses to Readalong One: ‘The Diving Pool’ by Yōko Ogawa

  1. I considered the title story 'The Diving Pool' the most successful of the 3. It garnered the greatest reaction from me. I think their grouping was reasonable as they are all dark, but in subtly different ways. I think the passive female characters hindered my enjoyment of the works more than their darkness did.

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  2. Tony Malone says:

    For me, 'The Dormitory' was the best one, and I thought the other two were very similar in their approach. I enjoyed the more distanced approach of the final story – very Murakami-like (which probably explains why I liked it best!). I'm not sure I agree about the women's passivity too – they seemed fairly active to me (although not in a good way…).

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  3. I was really looking forward to join this readalong. Starting the book today.

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  4. Tony Malone says:

    She – Maybe 'readalong' is the wrong word (I don't know what the right one is though…). Let me know if you review the book, and I'll add yours to the list 🙂

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  5. Perhaps passivity isn't quite the right word – I agree that they did act, but in ways that were very much like victims of society…

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  6. An says:

    First of all, thank you for recommending this awesome story collection! I don't think it would have crossed my path otherwise.

    The first two stories were my favourites. I loved how they are variations on similar themes: young, female protagonists, both outsiders (the only biological child in an orphanage, a woman living with her sister and brother in law), the pull of cruelty towards weaker or unsuspecting people, the focus on the (changing) body.

    Those first two stories worked so well together that the third novella, Dormitory, felt a little out of place in this collection. Although I still very much enjoyed the story and the atmosphere in it, it would have worked better for me had I read it separately, not following the other two.

    I'm glad I've gotten to know this very talented writer. I'm sure I'll pick up some of her other work. It would be a shame not to.

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  7. kamo says:

    Yeah, thanks for prompting me to finally read this. Been sitting on the shelf for months, and I'm definitely glad I finally got round to it.

    I'd probably plump for Dormitory as well. I can see why others think it's a bit of an anomaly here, but I definitely think there are fairly clear unifying themes (which I witter on about in my post, so I'll spare you all here) and while I might have chosen to put Dormitory in the middle instead of the end, I think it still coheres as a collection.

    Your last question is very interesting, because for me these stories (and what little other of Ogawa's stuff I've read) are ALL ABOUT tone. It's not that the tone just adds flavour, but that it's the entire point of the stories. Remove that and it'd be something totally different, so the questions sounds like taking someone to KFC then asking if they'd have preferred a less chickeny meal 😉

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  8. M says:

    So far, I've read the first two.

    The Diving Pool is a well-constructed story, with a good balance that builds nicely to the climax. It works very well as a coming of age story.

    Pregnancy Diary left me bored. Something very early on in the story telegraphed the ending to me and I really did not care to go through all that to get there. I tried hard not to skim.

    I did not think of the female protagonist in either as being passive. I thought they were lonely outsiders in their own homes, unsure of how they fit in.

    To me, the stories or novellas in a collection don’t have to be thematically related. Sometimes they are, other times the collection is more of a sampler of one or more author’s works. I won't read Dormitory with the expectation that it will be related to the other two.

    As for tone, The Diving Pool set the tone perfectly; Pregnancy didn't.

    Now, back to reading.

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  9. M says:

    Finished Dormitory. Shrugged my shoulders. If I'd read this one first I would not have read the other two. Reminded me of stories by Saki (H. H. Munro) but nowhere near as good.

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  10. Tony Malone says:

    An – I also thought that the third story was a little different (even if it was my favourite!) – for me, the second one was probably the weakest of the three.

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  11. Tony Malone says:

    kamo – I liked your attempts to tie them all together, not a point I'd thought about much. As for the tone, I think that's for the people who know Ogawa through 'The Housekeeper and the Professor' – that's almost like Ogawa's 'Norwegian Wood', a token 'straight' story 🙂

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  12. Tony Malone says:

    M – Interesting – that one was easily my favourite! I agree with 'Pregnancy Diary' though – surprising that this was the story which got her the Akutagawa Prize…

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  13. M says:

    Sometimes those prizes leave me totally baffled. I almost always like something on the short list better than I like the winner.

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  14. Tony Malone says:

    M – I've shadowed the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize for the past two years, and I've had a lot of (unpleasant) surprises…

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  15. naomifrisby says:

    Hi Tony, I also thought we were starting to read it on the 16th, so am late to the party. Am just finishing Dormitory tonight, so I'll review later this week. Have enjoyed it so far though.

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  16. Tony Malone says:

    Naomi – Apologies – I should have been clearer on that… Let me know when your review is up, and I'll add it to the page 🙂

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