Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Sunday, April 4, 2010

"Pregnancy Diary" by Yoko Ogawa

"Pregnancy Diary" by Yoko Ogawa from her collection of three novellas, The Diving Pool (1991, translated from Japanese by Stephen Snyder -49 pages)

I have already posted on the title piece from the collection from which this story is taken, "The Diving Pool", a strange and beautiful tale of a young woman and her obsession with watching her step brother dive.   The most famous work of Yoko Ogawa (1962) is The Professor and the Housekeeper which was loved by all who blogged on it.   

The diary in "Pregnancy Diary" refers to a diary kept by the sister of a pregnant woman who lives with her sister and brother in law in Tokyo.    The  diary begins the day before the sister makes her first visit to the maternity clinic she has chosen, The M Clinic.    The details of the visit are set out in the diary.    The clinic offers a full range of services from prenatal care to in house birthing facilities.    The diary keeper has her own unique perceptions and attitudes.    Like the central character in "The Diving Pool" she may never be physically alone but she is lonely and isolated and does not understand human relationships as people commonly do:

In, fact I don't really understand couples at all.   They seem like some sort of inexplicable gaseous body to me, a shapeless, colorless, unintelligible thing, trapped in a laboratory beaker.

Her observations on her sister are very interesting:

She seems to sleep a lot these days;   and she seems quite peaceful, as if she has wandered off into a deep, cold swamp.

Soon the pregnant sister begins to find food smells make her nauseous.    The other sister begins to do her cooking not in the kitchen but out in the yard.   The pregnant sister loves part of the prenatal examination procedures in which a clear gel is spread all over her body from her lower stomach on down.  The purpose of the gel is said to be to improve the quality of the ultrasound scans.    To me the reaction of the pregnant woman to this procedure is more than a little strange:

When they are finished, one of the nurses wipes my stomach with a piece of gauze.   I always want it to go on a little longer, so that makes me sad..When they are done, the first thing I do is go to the restroom and pull up my blouse again to look at my stomach.   I always hope there's some gel left, but there never is.  It is not even smooth when I rub it-I feel so let down.

The pregnant woman goes through different phrases.   For a while she will barely eat and loses weight then she begins to eat all the time.   The doctor tells her she must stop her weight gain.  

Nothing really amazing happens (this is not a remake of Rosemary's Baby! )    Both sisters seem a bit odd and the brother in law seems disconnected somehow.    The pleasure of "Pregnancy Diary" is in the   observations of the diary keeper and in our efforts to figure out what is really going on in the lives of the pregnant  sister and the brother in law.   Ogawa for sure lets us feel as if we are their and we believe in and care about the diary keeper and her sister.   (The sisters almost felt with a bit of a push they could be characters in a work by Emily Bronte if she had lived in post world war II Tokyo).    "Pregnancy Diary" is easy to read.   It may not be a master work of the art of the short story but I am glad I took the time to read it and I think most readers will also.   I enjoyed the diary format a lot.

I am getting more into the short story now and would love to have suggestions as to other works.

Mel U


Harvee said...

I remember trying to figure out the dairy writer's reactions to her sister and her pregnancy and thought it was a complex situation. Lots of nuances. Glad you enjoyed it. I have finally written my review of The Old Capital bu Kawabata. I learned about the book from Absorbed in Words, who gave it high praises. My salon.

Suko said...

Mel, this sounds like an interesting read. At 49 pages, it qualifies for the Spring Into Short Stories challenge; you will probably review more short stories than anyone else. :)