Wednesday 6 March 2013


Yoko Ogawa, 1998 [Stephen Snyder, 2013]
(February 2013)

Oh, Jesus. It’s been a long time since I had to put a book down in mid-sentence because my stomach wouldn’t stop turning, and that should be taken as a glowing endorsement.

Lots of little overlapping short stories, vignettes almost, with characters and situations that recur and interlink throughout the work. This is apparently in the tradition of somewhere’s something-or-other, but we don’t care about that. No, what we care about is the effect. It starts off just ever so slightly on the far side of wrong, with a woman conducting an odd but forgivable ritual on the anniversary of her son’s death. Then it slowly accretes tale after tale until you realize you’re reading a chapter called ‘Welcome to the Museum of Torture’ and it’s now full-blown horror and you really need to take a moment to think about something else and let your stomach settle.

It’s not gory though, oh no no. We’re very firmly in mind-fuck territory here. The language is clear and blank, neither excessively florid nor ostentatiously simple; the stylistic equivalent of the serial killer whose neigbours can only describe him after the fact as, ‘a quiet man,’ who, ‘kept himself to himself.’ Exactly what it needs to be then.

People are psychos, and you can never tell until it’s too late. Take it from me, don’t read this on a crowded commuter train unless you want some properly paranoid nightmare fuel.


  1. Looks interesting.

    I had a look into this and found that the author is from where I am living.

    If you look at the English title, it shows you the beauty of J/E translation, especially literary, as the title in Japanese 寡黙な死骸 みだらな弔い literally translates as "an obscene funeral for a taciturn corpse." I mean the title somewhat depicts what you have described in your review, so I'm pretty sure it's the right one. Of course there are a million ways to translate that phrase and, "taciturn corpse" and "obscene/lewd funeral/service" are also very hard to put into decent sounding English, so fuck it and let's go for Revenge is basically how it seems to work. I'm sure he translated the title last anyway.

    I find this stuff bloody fascinating, as if a second translator were to have a crack without looking at the first, the title could end up being something like "Wanton service, taciturn death" and et cetera. Of course my literary skills and those of literary translation are up to shit, so my title sounds rubbish, but that exact reason I have a lot of respect for someone who can translate material full of superfluous language and broken logic from a western perspective and turn that into something that not only you could enjoy enough to read, but to a level where the crux of the book was so well conveyed to you that it made you paranoid.

    It also demonstrates the massive gap between the two cultures. The times when I have translated things into Japanese, so much gets cut out when it is edited, but I can never understand why. On the other hand, when I translate or check J/E documents, I get rid of a heap of rubbish that has no use to the reader.

    BTW Hope I haven't screwed up my investigation and ended up with the wrong author!

  2. Just check and I've got the right one, phewwww.

    1. That looks about right. The original Japanese title's on the copyright page, but in romaji, and I didn't have the inclination to figure out the original too closely, so thanks for that.

      FWIW, I think it's generally the marketing department that has the final say on book titles, even in the first language. The author/translator can suggest stuff, but ultimately it'll be overruled if others think something else will sell better, which is why movie titles especially will often bear no relation to the original. I've always loved 'Spirited Away' in that respect, very well done.

      Obscene/Lewd is great, in the way it really doesn't translate directly in context. I used to teach at a technical school where 95% of the students were boys. Their English vocabulary acquisition method seemed to consist solely of translating porn titles with a J>E dictionary then shouting them at me (though I'm always telling my students to find examples of the language they enjoy, so at least they were taking me at my word). 'Lewd' featured quite prominently, as I recall.