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The Diving Pool by Yoko Ogawa

It was a beautiful dive. His body was straight and perpendicular to the water at entry, and there was almost no splash. A few bubbles rose from the bottom, and then the surface was glassy again.  

I liked that shape of his body, with his forehead pressed lightly against his shins and his palms wrapped behind his knees.  

As his legs traced a perfect circle in the air, like a compass falling through space, I could feel his body in mine, caressing me inside, closer and warmer and more peaceful than any real embrace. Though he had never held me in his arm, I was sure this feeling was true. – page 44, Diving pool.  

Diving pool is a 3-part novella, about love, motherhood, fertility, obsession and how even the most innocent gestures contain a hairline crack of cruel intent.  

In The Diving Pool, a lonely teenaged girl falls in love with her foster-brother as she watches him leap from a high diving board into a pool – an infatuation that is seeded since childhood.  

In Pregnancy Diary, a young woman records the daily moods of her pregnant sister in a diary, taking meticulous note of a pregnancy which is surreal in her inexperienced eyes.  

In Dormitory, a woman nostalgically visits her old college dormitory on the outskirts of Tokyo, a boarding house run by a mysterious tripe amputee with one leg.  

The Diving pool made me think about the question whether it is a human nature to be cruel sometimes and I like the way Ogawa contrasts the teenaged girl’s dark thoughts with the foster brother’s (Jun) kindness and that their chasm was wider after Jun discovered her dark side and she is left with no hope of expecting the same infatuation and love from Jun.  

The way Ogawa had described the triple amputee / dorm manager making tea was awe inspiring:  

My cousin and I watched his preparations as if we were attending some solemn ritual. Pressing the button on the thermos with is toe, he filled the teapot with boiling water, and then still using his toes, he grasped the pot and poured the tea into the cups. The sound of the thin trickle of hot tea fell into the silence of the room. 

The manger’s foot was beautiful. Though he must have used it much more than one normally would, it was flawless, without a single cut of bruise – and I realised that I never considered a foot so closely or carefully, not even my own, which I could only vaguely recall.  

And that caused me to look down at my neglected feet. LOL. 🙂  

Ogawa talks about mathematic whenever she can, the cousin of the protagonist of the dorm is a mathematic students.  

Here’s what Hilary Mantel said about Ogawa’s style:  

Ogawa is original, elegant, very disturbing. I admire any writer who dares to work on this uneasy territory – we’re on the edge of the unspeakable. The stories seem to penetrate right to the heart of the world, and find it a cold and eerie place. Her spare technique is very skilled. Every word is put to work. She sets up a small vibration , a disturbance, which begins quietly and generates wider and wider ripples of unease. There are no narrative tricks, but the stories generate a surprising amount of tension. You feel as if you’ve touched an icy hand. 

She sums up how I really feel about the book.  

Rating: 3.5/5 

It is haunting and twisted stories about normal people who discover their own dark possibilities of taking action upon their cruel intentions. This is Ogawa’s darker rendition compared to her “The Housekeeper + The Professor” and I welcomed it except I don’t understand the ending of The Dormitory, about the blood or honey that dripped from the roof. I think I know what it was, but not sure. Can somebody who read the book tell me what you think actually happened?  

If I think what I think actually happened, this book gives me the chill really. Not a warm fuzzy spring read if that’s what you are looking for. 

I am reading this for 2010 Global Reading Challenge – Asia, A to Z.

Hardback. Publisher: Harvill Secker 2008; Length: 164 pages; Setting: Contemporary Japan. Source: Library Loot. Finished reading at: 7 March 2010

About the writer:
Yoko Ogawa (小川 洋子, Ogawa Yōko, born March 30, 1962) is a Japanese writer. Born in Okayama, Okayama Prefecture, graduated from Waseda University, and lives in Ashiya, Hyōgo, with her husband and son. Since 1988, she has published more than twenty works of fiction and nonfiction. Her novel The Professor’s Beloved Equation has been made into a movie. In 2006 she co-authored “An Introduction to the World’s Most Elegant Mathematics” with Masahiko Fujiwara, a mathematician, as a dialogue on the extraordinary beauty of numbers. 

She has won every major Japanese literary award: 

  • 1988 Kaien Prize for her debut Disintegration of the Butterfly (Agehacho ga kowareru toki, 揚羽蝶が壊れる時)
  • 1990 Akutagawa Prize for Pregnancy Calendar (Ninshin karendaa, 妊娠 カレンダー)
  • 2004 Yomiuri Prize for The Professor’s Beloved Equation (Hakase no aishita sushiki, 博士の愛した数式; translated as The Gift of Numbers)
  • 2004 Izumi Prize for Burafuman no maisō, ブラフマンの埋葬
  • 2006 Tanizaki Prize for Meena’s March (Mīna no kōshin, ミーナの行進)
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    About JoV

    A bookaholic that went out of control.... I eat, sleep and breathe books. Well, lately I do other stuff.


    9 thoughts on “The Diving Pool by Yoko Ogawa

    1. Great review. I will add this to my TBR list.

      Posted by Gavin | March 9, 2010, 1:17 am
    2. I’ve been meaning to read this book, but there are just so many other books out there to read… Glad you liked the book. I think I’ll put it on hold from the library now.

      Posted by Michelle | March 10, 2010, 8:31 am
    3. @Gavin, thanks, hope you like it.

      @Michelle, do tell me what you think about it.

      @Both, I sort of had to guess what the endings are… after you read the book, do let me know what you think about the ending, and what conclusions you make about them.

      Posted by JoV | March 10, 2010, 10:18 pm
    4. I really enjoyed The Housekeeper and The Professor and have been wondering what The Diving Pool would be like. That passage about the foot is wonderful – she just seems to dare to go places others don’t. Great review!

      Posted by Booklover Book Reviews | April 11, 2010, 3:41 am
    5. I found this post about a year late, but I’m also trying to process the end of The Dormitory. Part of me was skeptical about the landlord’s lack of prosthetic devices for his hands. One of my high school teachers lost a hand in a farming accident and had a hook that let him function more or less completely. I wondered why the landlord didn’t have something like that, especially when we find out later that it was allegedly killing him. The more cynical part of me wondered if this wasn’t a ruse, possibly a la Ted Bundy, to conceal the fact that he was physically capable of doing something to the boys.

      On the other hand, the novella made sure that we were aware that the landlord could function just as well as anyone else in every other way, so why not murder, even if he was physically limited?

      At the end of the story, I was convinced that the narrator was going to discover that she had nursed the killer of her cousin as he died, though I was surprised that the story would be tied up so neatly. The fact that the narrator was so quick to assume that there would blood dripping from the ceiling proves that there was something in her interactions that gave her a reason to think that her cousin had actually disappeared (which seems at least possible since she never saw her cousin despite visiting daily toward the end) and that his body was hidden in the ceiling. Moreover, even though she found out that source of the drip was a beehive, it still didn’t seem to erase the ominous feeling that was building. It felt more like a horror movie where the victim walks hears an eerie scratching sound and, with the tension building, investigates and finds that it was just a branch against a window, then relaxes…only to have the crazed killer jump out of a bush.

      The more I think about it, the more I’m convinced that something happened to the narrator’s cousin. The interesting part to me, though, is that the more I thought about it, the more I wondered about the math student that had disappeared earlier. If I read correctly, I don’t think the narrator actually any news articles about his disappearance and simply took the landlord’s word for it (supported by the boy’s room and possessions, of course).

      It just seems like the entire story was told by an unreliable narrator and most of the information was provided to the narrator by an even more questionable source, so everything in the story is at least slightly unreliable. Still, there was still such a sense of wrongness that accompanied the story, especially toward the end, that it seems like something bad happened to someone in the course of the story.

      Posted by Brooke | May 21, 2011, 8:11 am
      • Brooke, thank you for your thoughts. I wholeheartedly agreed that the landlord is up to no good, whether he uses a ruse or not, I think he actually murdered the lodgers that lived with him but I was a bit confused with the blood dripping and bee hives thingy because the two things don’t gel. I am convinced a body is up there but I’m just curious to know how it actually happened.

        Of course, we will never know.

        p/s: you have quite a good wild imagination! 🙂

        Posted by JoV | May 21, 2011, 10:42 am


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    Ratings Defined

    0 = Abandon the book after first chapter

    1 = Waste of paper, we will see what the environmentalist say about this!

    2 = Skip it, read the book if you have got nothing better to do

    2.5 = An average book, easily forgettable.

    3 = A good read.

    3.5 = A good entertaining read, a page-turner

    4 = So glad that I read the book, a book with substance and invaluable for future reference

    4.5 = So glad that I read the book, would pester everyone to read it, invaluable, I would want to own it and wouldn't mind a second read (something that I seldom do)

    5 = The book is so good that I feel like I am on scale 4 and 4.5, and more, it blew me away and lingers on my head for weeks!

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    Reading, after a certain age, diverts the mind too much from its creative pursuits. Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking. - Albert Einstein (1879 - 1955)

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