The figurative language of Yoko Ogawa

Reading time: About one minute

I like to share interesting pieces of figurative language I encounter in my reading. I write today about similes from Yoko Ogawa….

Yoko Ogawa is a Japanese writer who has published more than 20 works of fiction and nonfiction, and has won every major Japanese literary award. She started her working life as a medical university secretary and wrote while her husband was at work. He didn’t realise she was a writer until her debut novel, The Breaking of the Butterfly, (not available in English) received a literary prize. She lives in Ashiya, Japan, with her husband and son.

I recently read her very fine novel, The Housekeeper and the Professor, which I found to be a gentle and captivating character study of two characters. Very little happens in the book but somehow, Yoko Ogawa makes it deeply fascinating. She also has a keen eye and ear for figurative language. Here are my favourite examples:

  • Not simply an absence of noise, but an accumulation of layers of silence, untouched by fallen hair or mold, silence that the Professor left behind as he wandered through the numbers, silence like a clear lake hidden in the depths of the forest.
  • But it’s not something you can put into words — explaining why a formula is beautiful is like trying to explain why the stars are beautiful.
  • Like a miner sifting a speck of gold from the muddy river bottom, he always found some small virtue to compliment, even when Root was stuck.
  • The sounds of the rain seemed louder in the study, as if the sky were actually lower there.
  • I also liked the way he wrote his numbers with his little stub of a pencil. The 4 was so round it looked like a knot of ribbon, and the 5 was leaning so far forward it seemed about to tip over.
  • They [the numbers] covered the paper with dark blotches in some places, and traced faintly like delicate insect tracks in others.
  • The evening sky seemed so close you could touch it, and at that moment, as if they had been awaiting our arrival, the lights came on. The stadium looked like a spaceship descended from the heavens.

The Housekeeper and the Professor has been adapted into the film, The Professor’s Beloved Equation.

Scroll to Top