[Book Review] The Mounting Dread Of ‘Revenge: Eleven Dark Tales’ By Yoko Ogawa

Revenge

Revenge: Eleven Dark Tales was originally published in Japan way back in 1998 (Komoku na shigai, Midara na tomurai) but over the past year, translations of individual stories from Yoko Ogawa’s cryptic anthology have crept into classy American lit mags like Harper’s, Zoetrope: All Story, and Guernica. Ogawa’s highbrow, gothic style may not appeal to stalwart gorehounds, but she’s a critics’ darling, and fans of slow burn supernatural horror may want to sign up for this one. The new English translation by Stephen Snyder, released by Picador, hits American bookstores on January 29. Read on for the full review.

Individually, the stories in Yoko Ogawa’s pseudo-horror anthology don’t add up to much. If you were to flip to a random story and read it out of context, it’s not unlikely that you would feel sadly under-whelmed. But read consecutively, from beginning to end, the anthology takes on a cumulative power.

Admittedly, after reading the first two stories, I was disappointed in their overall lack of impact. But then the third story paid off, which piqued my interest. Soon after, I recognized Ogawa’s subtle-yet-rewarding pattern: the secret to a clue left in one story would be revealed a few stories later…most of the time. Maybe some of the time. In any case, the final pages had me flipping to previous stories on a desperate search for those secrets I may have missed.

Not that the stories are intolerable if read out of order. Some tales, like “Old Mrs. J” and “Lab Coats”, manage to stand alone as eerie, self-contained vignettes. But each story is connected, tangentially, which becomes more important as the anthology progresses. Some stories, seemingly, aren’t connected at all. Others, very deeply. It’s hard to explain. But with each story, the dread mounts, and once that final page is turned, there’s little doubt you’ve just experienced something special.

Rating: 4 out of 5 Skulls