When Ms. Shibata gets a new job in Tokyo to escape sexual harassment at her old one, she finds that, as the only woman at her new workplace, she is expected to do all the menial tasks. One day she announces that she can't clear away her colleagues' dirty cups—because she's pregnant and the smell nauseates her. The only thing is—Ms. Shibata is not pregnant. Pregnant Ms. Shibata doesn't have to serve coffee to anyone. Pregnant Ms. Shibata isn't forced to work overtime. Pregnant Ms. Shibata rests, watches TV, takes long baths, and even joins an aerobics class for expectant mothers. But pregnant Ms. Shibata also has a nine-month ruse to keep up.
Some premises prove so irresistible that they become crutches, excusing a colorless execution. That’s not the case here, although Yagi’s gambit is seductive enough to prop up a more ordinary book ... Moments imply a novel that is primarily interested in political commentary ... Yagi doesn’t simply explore how 'pregnancy' affects Shibata, socially and psychologically. Her designs are both deeper and weirder; she wants to press on broad assumptions about life, vitality, and spirit, and where these qualities can be found ... Yagi increasingly blurs the lines between fertility and barrenness, the animate and the inanimate. She sometimes accomplishes this via magic realism ... Behind this lovely (and funny!) mysticism stands a sarcastic, and probably correct, wager—that readers might not be able to grok the value of a woman’s soul without a fetus to incarnate it. Diary of a Void advances one of the most passionate cases I’ve ever read for female interiority, for women’s creative pulse and rich inner life. But even that description fails to capture what Yagi is after: those parts of us, precious and possibly hostile, which flower in darkness, disintegrate when described, and can be compared only to alien life-forms.
The speculative conceit reigns in contemporary publishing, where few novels live up to their promise of revelatory social commentary. But a particularly good one can still tempt even the most cynical of readers ... If occasionally heavy-handed...Yagi has a light touch for the endless ironies made possible by her premise. There is humor ... As the lie starts to become surreal, palpable abdominal kicking and an apparently legitimate sonogram briefly make the reader think that maybe our narrator has actually been tricking us, or herself, all along. The novel’s conclusion is thankfully less pat: In the end we’re left with nothing but the void, 'just big enough for one person.'
Another author might have played the idea for slapstick or suspense ... Yet the book never idealizes pregnancy. Yagi finds ways to show us how strange the experience can be ... As the novel goes on, it shifts from social commentary and satire to something stranger ... If you’ve ever wanted to bite back at a nosy boss, a rude co-worker, an unfair assignment, or the endless list of shoulds we face, then maybe you’ll find something to enjoy in her audacity too.