Thursday, November 29, 2007

Chain Letter Wickedness

This appeared in the latest issue of TimeOut Mumbai.

RING Koji Suzuki

Most stories of the supernatural are, in essence, simple morality tales: grievous wrong has been committed and, over time, people pay the price for this until restitution of some sort has been made. Koji Suzuki’s Ring is no exception. It was first published in Japan in 1991, translated into English more than a decade later and now re-issued because of the success of the Japanese and Hollywood films that it inspired.

For those who haven’t seen the celluloid versions, Ring deals with the travails of Asakawa, a journalist with Tokyo’s Daily News, who starts to probe the mysterious deaths of four teenagers at the same time on the same day. His investigations lead him to a resort cabin where he watches a video cassette of impressionistic scenes which ends with the dire pronouncement: “Those who view these images are fated to die at this exact moment one week from now”. Asakawa’s rising panic now competes with the need to solve the conundrum. In this, he’s joined by his cynical, amoral friend Ryuji, who may just have a skeleton or two in his own cupboard.

The writing is cool and fast-paced – though sometimes clunky and with a few annoying Americanisms thrown in – thus acting as a fitting foil to the occasional gruesomeness of the subject matter. The series of revelations that lead to the denouement reveal a plot of fiendish ingenuity, involving the basic premise of a chain letter taken to a wicked extreme. In case that wasn’t enough, paranormal phenomena, rapes and a mutating virus play leading roles, too, making it all a tad more portentous than necessary.

As for whether it all ends in tears or smiles, this reviewer is, alas, in no position to offer enlightenment. You see, the book ends with the terse announcement that the saga continues in Suzuki’s next book, Spiral. Which, no doubt, leads on to the last in the trilogy, Loop. They ought to have printed some sort of warning on the cover itself.

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