I picked this up a a local second hand store on a complete whim. I’ve been reading a lot more lately and decided a change of pace wouldn’t hurt, and it would be interesting to sink my teeth into a good horror novel. Plus, the cover was undeniably an eye-catcher and being a horror movie fan I immediately recognized that it had been adapted into the film series we all know and have nightmares about.
There will be some mild spoilers in the review, none which really affect storyline.
Ring follows reporter Asakawa as he investigates the mysterious simultaneous deaths of four teens (one of whom is his niece) in search of a good story. If you’ve seen the movie ‘The Ring’ or any of it’s subsequent adaptations please know that this was a vastly different tale that didn’t at all rely on jump-scares or the physical apparition of any ghosts.
After watching the tape that promises his death if the doesn’t carry out it’s instructions Asakawa is a desperate and terrified man. Why? The instructions have been taped over and he has no way of knowing how to prevent his oncoming doom.
While I found this a suspenseful and at time successfully creepy read, there were a lot of things I didn’t like about it. Not being a Japanese speaker, I have no way of knowing what the original text is like and so I’m judging the translation alone when I say that this wasn’t very well-written. There was no finesse to the prose and many passages were over- or under-described to the detriment of the narrative. While it’s possible that in it’s original Japanese it’s a masterpiece, I simply have no way of knowing – which is the unfortunate truth for any translated work.
Another large point against it for me was the treatment of women – both in spoken word and action. I’m not sure if this was a reflection of cultural differences or if it was meant to make the characters less sympathetic. If it was the latter it worked very well, and definitely made my enjoyment of the book take a huge hit.
Asakawa’s dismissive thoughts and actions towards his wife at the beginning of the book already had me taking pause before it’s revealed that his best friend Ryuji is a rapist. Not only is he a rapist, but “Naturally, Asakawa never told anyone about Ryuji’s crime.” What? ‘Naturally’? It’s natural to not report your friend’s heinous destruction of someone’s life but you’ll still agonize over the ethics of showing him a VHS tape that may or may not kill him? It was disheartening to read about to say the least.
In saying that, sexual assault ends up playing a large part in the narrative – which I recognized right away but the main characters puzzled over what could possibly be happening for ages.
Basically, I had zero sympathy for Asakawa or Ryuji by the end and I’ve never felt so much sympathy for the ghost seeking revenge. While in the films, Sadako makes some scary physical appearances, in the book it’s only her thoughts and ‘presence’ that are felt rather than physically appearing. The parts of the book I found most interesting were the physical mechanics of the VHS curse, which they refer to often as a ‘virus’ and learning more about Sadako and her mother’s lives before their unfortunate deaths.
While Koji Suzuki has written a horror novel that had me shivering at first, the fact that by the end I was cheering on Sadako’s revenge plan says a lot.
Have you read Ring or it’s sequels and have thoughts to share? Any other horror novels to recommend? Let me know in the comments below!