Sunday, August 20, 2017

REVIEW: Ring (book) by Koji Suzuki, translated by Robert B. Rohmer and Glynne Walley

Ring is a Japanese horror novel. I own a used copy.

This review includes a few spoilers. I tried to keep them vague.

Review:
 
Warning: This book includes multiple mentions of rapes and a main character who is likely a rapist. Also, one of the main characters deliberately misgenders another character.

Kazuyuki Asakawa is a reporter who got into a bit of trouble in the past. From what I could gather (it was a little confusing), he wrote an article that exacerbated oddly widespread public reports of supernatural sightings. That’s why his boss is reluctant to okay his most recent project: an investigation into several disturbing simultaneous deaths. One of the victims was his niece, who tore out her hair as she died. Her death, like the others, was ruled “sudden heart failure,” but would that really cause a teenage girl to rip out her hair like that?

Asakawa’s investigation leads him to a difficult-to-get-to cabin, where he watches a mysterious videotape that warns him that all who watch the tape are fated to die exactly one week later. Those who do not wish to die must follow the tape’s instructions...except that the instructions were taped over. Asakawa would laugh it off it weren’t for those four simultaneous deaths.

In an effort to save himself, Asakawa enlists the help of the one man he knows who'd actually enjoy this strange task: Ryuji Takayama, a creepy and gross philosophy professor with a grating personality.

This was a reread, but all I could remember about it, at first, was that it was pretty different from the American movie (I’ve never seen the Japanese one). A few chapters in, I regained a few more memories about the story, enough that certain lines and phrases stood out to me that I’m pretty sure I overlooked during my first reading. However, I had forgotten a lot more than I expected: although I remembered what Asakawa had to do in order to survive, I completely forgot several details about Ryuji and Sadako.

For me, the first third of the book, before Ryuji’s introduction, was the strongest. Sure, it took a long time for Asakawa to get far enough into his investigation to track down the tape, but the spooky atmosphere was excellent, and I enjoyed seeing his investigative process and anticipating the events to come. I didn’t really like Asakawa, who so rarely took care of his own child that his wife found his insistence on putting her down for a nap himself suspicious, but I was okay with that. When it comes to horror novels, I don’t necessarily need to like the main characters, and sometimes it’s even better when I don’t (less to mourn when/if they die).

Then Ryuji entered the scene. I know I just said that I don’t always need to like characters in horror novels, but Ryuji was really pushing things. Near the end of the book, one character said that much of his behavior was a lie and that he was actually a very good man, but I happen to think that character was just deluding herself. I snorted when Asakawa decided to believe her on the basis of her woman’s intuition - if woman’s intuition was all that it took to convince him, what about his wife’s deep hatred of Ryuji, which he had never asked her to explain?

I personally think Ryuji was the man Asakawa saw, the one who’d admitted to raping multiple women and who once said that this was his wish for the future: “While viewing the extinction of the human race from the top of a hill, I would dig a hole in the earth and ejaculate into it over and over.” (117) I believe that Asakawa was so quick to change his mind about Ryuji because part of him knew he should have told someone when, back in high school, Ryuji admitted to him that he’d raped someone. The thought that Ryuji might have lied about all of that made him feel less guilty about having done absolutely nothing.

Okay, now that I’ve vented some of my anger about slimeball Ryuji and enabler Asakawa, on to the rest. The investigation continued to be pretty interesting, although the spooky atmosphere all but disappeared, overshadowed by Asakawa’s increasing panic over his approaching deadline. Unfortunately, the more he panicked the less he used his brain, giving Ryuji more opportunities to talk and be smug about his own intelligence.

I had forgotten most of the details of the later part of the investigation and was completely hooked, wanting to see how things would turn out. One particular revelation about Sadako took me completely by surprise, and not in a good way. So many things about that one scene bugged me. As much as I enjoyed this book in general, it was absolute crap when it came to gender issues. Also, I did not appreciate the use of rape as a plot device.

When I first read this book, I wasn’t aware that it was the first in a series. I own the second book, Spiral, and plan to read it soon.

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