Book: Ring by Koji Suzuki

Alas, not very creepy

Koji Suzuki
Vertical, 2004
ISBN: 1-932234-41-1
282 pages

Originally published in 1991 in Japan as Ringu. Translated by Robert B. Rohmer and Glynne Walley.

In Ring, Kazuyuki Asakawa is a journalist who begins investigating the mysterious simultaneous deaths of four teenagers, one of whom was his niece. He traces their movements back to some rustic rental cabins and finds a video there that they seem to have watched. He watches the tape and it says that whoever watches it will die in seven days unless... but then the message is cut off. Someone has recorded over the end. (The Japanese original of the novel is, as far as I can determine, the origin of the "watch a copy of this video and you'll die in a week" premise.)

Asakawa decides that he's never going to figure out what the erased charm against the curse is by himself. He asks a old friend of his, Ryuji Takayama, a professor and rapist, for help. Takayama insists on having his own copy and watching the tape. Then, against their deadlines and with just the images on the tape to go on, they try to find out what the charm might be.

That's a reasonably good premise for a horror story if you ask me. But what makes a horror story is the telling. And there, alas, Ring doesn't work very well for me. There's really only one bit that felt creepy and it's quite short. Perhaps it's a cultural thing and Japanese folks would pick up on creepiness that went past me. Or maybe it's just not there.

In either case, the translation doesn't do the book very many favors. It doesn't feel smooth or transparent. For example:

    Yoshino's interest was piqued by this "eeriness" that seemed
    to elbow out the salient prettiness of her face. (p. 185)

That's an extreme example; the whole book isn't that clumsy. But any effect that depends on the reader's being immersed in the text just isn't going to come off. The translators also routinely use "alright" for "all right". That may have the sanction of some usage, but it still looks wrong to me. (Before anyone shouts "prescriptive grammarian", you should know that I've checked the closets and under the couch and and there aren't any linguists here.)

The publisher has put advertisements for other books on the pages after the end of the text. For someone like me who tends to look through the pages at the end of a book for a note about the author or something similar, it was disconcerting to read before finishing the book that there's a sequel that tells us that what we think we understand from the ending of this book is wrong.

If you're thinking of watching the movie, rent the Japanese version, not the American one. The American version has great wodges of added plot machinery that the Japanese version sensibly does without.

Posted: Tue - August 17, 2004 at 12:15   Main   Category: