February 14, 2010

Koji Suzuki – Vertical – 2004 – 1 volume (technically, it’s first in a 3-volume series that includes Spiral and Loop)
This is the original novel, not a manga.

I said before I would try to cover more novels and whatnot on here.  I have a few to read, and I still haven’t posted a review of Now You’re One of Us (which was awesome), but I just finished this up tonight, and figured I’d dash off a few thoughts.

I’m not sure if it’s the translation process or what, but I often find Japanese novels to be extremely dry reading, with the exception of the handful of light novels I’ve tried.  Granted, I have yet to try something like Mishima, Murakami, Tanizaki, Abe, or anything meant for a more mainstream audience, but it’s true of the few Vertical novels I’ve read as well as the two Haikasoru novels.  I can’t quite put my finger on it.  It’s like… the plots get down to business, rather than lingering and establishing flavor.  There are jokes, and the characters have well-developed personalities, but they somehow seem less juicy to me.

As a result, I find that they are sometimes hard to get into, which was the case with Ring.  The book opens with a pair of bizarre murders and gets going pretty quickly from there, but I just could not bring myself to get into the boring Asakawa’s problems until about halfway through.  Not much time is spent in making Asakawa anything other than a typical businessman who works for a newspaper and doesn’t have a lot of spare time.  That’s fine, he’s the main character, and that’s who he is, but… you know.  He’s just boring.  The same can be said of the boring housewives, or boring young ladies I’ve run across in other novels.  They are a bit too plain for their own good. Maybe it’s a device that’s used so that the reader has an easier time submerging themselves in the story and placing themselves in the character’s shoes, but I’d rather be entertained by a character in a horror story rather than be that character.

Asakawa’s friend Ryuji saves Ring from being inexplicably bland despite its awesome plot.  Ryuji gets a pretty sinister introduction, and provides the majority of the insight and the occasional levity along the path of digging up Sadako.  In comparison, Asakawa is relatively impotent when it comes to doing much of anything except recruiting other people that help him.

The plot itself is the main draw, though.  Like I said, I was relatively bored with Asakawa until about halfway through, when he and Ryuji figure out enough from the tape that they know it’s not a regular video and track it back to Izu Oshima and learn about Sadako and Shizuko.  I couldn’t put it down for the last 75 or so pages, and was pretty blown away when the nature of the curse was revealed at the very end of the book.  It does a good job of building and spinning the mystery bigger and bigger, and the sense of urgency as time runs out at the end of the book is a lot more pressing than the boring beginning would have you think.  And the final reveal turns it into something incredibly sinister and terrifying.  I hadn’t seen the Japanese movie version of this story, but this was almost nothing like the American remake.

And in case you are unfamiliar with any of the media adaptations of the story, the plot is something like this:  There is a cursed video tape, and if you watch it, you will die in 7 days unless you carry out a particular… “charm” (so says the book, but the choice of words bothered me for the cure).  The mysterious simultaneous death of four teenagers in three different places from heart attacks piques the curiousity of Asakawa, a newspaper reporter, and he traces the deaths back to a cabin, where he unknowingly watches the tape that killed him.  He believes in the power of the tape immediately, though the “charm” to break the death curse was mischeviously taped over by the teenagers, so Asakawa has no idea to fight his impending death.  He recruits his snarky and disturbing best friend Ryuji to help him uncover the truth in the tape, and they have one week to figure out how the tape got to the cabin and how to stop the death curse.  Good stuff.  I did like the original plot much better than the US movie, though it has been years since I’ve seen it.

Overall, I enjoyed the book, and would recommend it to anyone interested.  The beginning is a bit tedious to get through, but you will be rewarded if you continue reading.  The ending makes that horrible beginning worth it, and again, the scope and implications of it is pretty incredible.  It didn’t make me want to read either of the sequels, but all the same, I enjoyed it immensely by the time it was over.