No 499 Ring by Koji Suzuki (translated by Robert B.Rohmer & Glynne Whalley) #JLC13

It might come as a surprise, but I am quite the horror fan although my preference is for movies over books. Horror books never quite have the same scare factor for me, but I am a big fan of horror movies, particularly those from Korea and Japan. I saw Hideo Nakata’s seminal adaptation of Ring too many years ago, and haven’t seen the US remake, but I thought it would be interesting to see how the source material stacks up.

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Four teenagers in Tokyo inexplicably die of sudden heart failure, at exactly the same time. Asakawa, the uncle of one of the victims believes there is something more to the story and starts to track the teenager’s movements leading up to their deaths. His search takes him to a remote holiday cabin outside Tokyo, where it turns out that the group all watched a videotape containing a curse. Whoever watches the tape will die in exactly one week. Tantalisingly, the tape originally contained instructions to avoid this dreadful fate, but they have been recorded over with a TV chat-show.

Those who have viewed these images are fated to die at this exact hour one week from now. If you do not wish to dies, you must follow these instructions exactly…

Now that he has also seen the tape, Asakawa must work out how to overturn the curse before his time runs out. He enlists the help of a friend, Ryuji, and together they cross Japan trying to discover who made the tape and what it is that they want. Tension builds further when Asakawa’s wife and child discover the tape and also watch it, so Asakawa is not just saving himself, but his whole family.

Ring is a competent thriller, that opens well and has its own built-in tension thanks to the time contraints placed upon Asakawa to solve the mystery. The opening chapters describing the deaths of the four teenagers are particularly creepy, but unfortunately the rest of the book doesn’t really live up to this early promise. The chapter where Asakawa watches the video is filled with descriptions of unusual and disorientating images, but this is where the medium of film is much more successful in conveying the horror therein. That hallucinatory sense of evil, captured so well in the film adaptation, is missing here and what we have instead is simply a puzzle to be solved.

The novel’s attitude to women is also problematic. On one hand the over-arching premise is that the videotape exists to spur the viewer on to right the wrongs committed against a female psychic years before

What if a woman who had been murdered left a message in the world of the living in an effort to get someone else to avenge her, so that she could be at peace?

Yet there is a cavalier attitude towards rape that is really troubling. For no apparent reason, Suzuki has one of his main characters – Ryugi – be a known rapist. Despite admitting to the crime, Asakawa has never reported his friend to the police, nor does he dislike him for it, Ryugi’s proclivities are passed off as eccentricity. It’s an unfortunate and unnecessary characterisation that clouds the rest of the book, which is a shame, because there are the bones of a really great thriller here.

As Asakawa comes closer and closer to solving the mystery of the tape, the novel lurches in an entirely different direction, raising interesting moral questions about how far we would go to save our family and ourselves and about the insidious and subtle power of evil.

A diverting read, but I would suggest watching the movie instead.

 

I read Ring as part of Dolce Belleza’s Japanese Reading Challenge

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Read on: Kindle

Number Read: 248

Number Remaining: 498

 

novels in translation Reading Challenge The 746

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I am a 40 something book buying addict trying to reduce the backlog one book at a time!

19 Comments Leave a comment

  1. I’ve seen both Ring adaptations but never realised there was a novel – good to know it’s not worth prioritising!

    I also love horror but tend towards reading horror fiction because a lot of horror movies are too violent for me – I like the Ring movies because they are terrifying but with minimal gore.

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  2. Great review. I’ve seen the movie versions but also didn’t realise they were based on a book! I can imagine it’s hard to capture the hallucinatory horror of the tape in written form, and what a shame about the problematic attitude towards women and rape.

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  3. I never realized that the film was based on the novel written by a Japanese author! (Are you sure you want to keep blogging with me?😉) While I love reading horror/thriller/suspense, I have a tricky time watching it. Those images become indelible when I receive them visually. But, I would like to read this! Thank you for reading it and sharing it with us.

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  4. As I am a huge scaredy-cat I won’t be reading the book or seeing the films! 🙂 But you’re right, how inexplicably jarring to have one of your characters be a rapist and it’s no big deal.
    You’re under 500! Hooray.

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  5. Along with your other commenters, I wasn’t aware that the film has been inspired by a novel. That’s interesting to know. A rare case where the adaptation appears to be superior to the book!
    Oh, and congratulations for tipping into the 400s – that’s quite a milestone!

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  6. I remember watching the U.S. version in the theater and just about peeing my pants in fear. Doesn’t help that this was around the time when I was frequently going to the movie theater alone! I think I grabbed someone else’s date in terror! I have shouted about Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier being a genuinely scary book.

    I asked my husband if he had any fiction horror recommendations, and he asked for clarification on what horror is. Are you peeking over your shoulder to see if someone is back there, he asks. And I’m not sure! As grown ups, I think it’s much harder to scare us because we tend to dig into science and reason more than children. However, he did say that The Running Man by Stephen King was actually scary — the movie had to be “cartooned up” a bit because the reality was so awful.

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  7. I know horror movies from Japan and Korea are super scary and ultra eery. The visual medium is powerful in the hands of a skillful director. I still have the memory of reading a horror anime (book, therefore with visuals) as a child about a devil possessed cat wreaking havoc and since then I’ve avoided the genre. Just finished reading Rashomon and Other Stories for JLC13, even the movie adaptation “Rashomon” which isn’t supposed to be a horror film haunts me, esp. the wife’s testimony and her dead husband speaking through her.

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  8. Ring, the original one (I haven’t seen the remake), is a great movie. One of the best horror movies I’ve seen (I’m a big horror movie fan).
    Like you I was a bit surprised when I read the book to discover quite how distasteful it is. The attitude to rape in the book is fairly repugnant, and was a bit part of why I never read more in the series (that and I didn’t think it had nearly the power of the film).
    It’s funny because the cliche is that the book is better than the film, but not in this case!

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