I only recently became aware of Yoko Ogawa when someone told me that I write a bit like her. Curious, I decided to check her out and discovered that she has won nearly every writing award in Japan. Not all of her work has been translated into English sadly and I was seriously considering learning Japanese just so I could read the ones that haven’t!
While I would love to say that I do write like her (there is something there in her work, a subtlety that I try to capture but mostly fail at), she is a much more accomplished experienced writer than me. I hold her up as a shining example of what I would like to achieve.
The best place to start if you’re not familiar with Yoko Ogawa is The Diving Pool, a collection of three short novellas. These stories are haunting with disturbing imagery that will stay in your mind afterwards. There is an ambiguity about her stories; nothing is spelled out for you. The dreamlike quality of her work is rich with unspoken menace and hidden secrets.
She often doesn’t bother with character descriptions unless they are important in some way and you may not even know the name of the character you are reading about. It doesn’t matter. What you take away is so much more than generic descriptions and names. What matters is the emotions and actions of the characters. Yoko Ogawa taps into that dark place inside us that makes us do and think nasty things. Some of the things the characters do are unpleasant but not unrealistic. In fact, they are uncomfortably familiar.
If you like fast paced action and tight plots then Ogawa isn’t the writer for you. But for something that will make you think and genuinely unsettle you, read her. She will be unlike anyone you’ve read before.