In Book Reviews on June 2, 2013 at 6:00 am


Originally published: Harper Collins 1991

“Aren’t you afraid? Hey – shouldn’t you be afraid? The angel of death might be coming to get you.”

Ummmmm…no. I wasn’t afraid at all. In fact, this was the least terrifying horror novel I’ve ever read. I thought that it would be more appropriate to put it on the Crime/Thriller shelf. There is absolutely no sense of immediacy  in this book and much of the “horror” happens “off-screen”.

It felt like more of a detective story to me. I was actually tempted to abandon it but I ploughed on and I’m almost glad I did. The last 30 pages or so were the most interesting part of the entire book. (Please be advised that there are spoilers ahead.)

Nutshell blurb: A reporter tries to figure out the cause of death for four teenagers who mysteriously die all at the same time. He ends up watching the same video they did which tells him that he’s going to die in a week. He enlists the help of his best friend to find the curse-breaker.

This book is pretty much a description of two men running down leads in order to save their lives (because yes, the best friend watches the video too).

The thing that I disliked the most about this book is the casual sexism which is pervasive throughout and had absolutely no bearing on the story. It seemed as though the author’s personal feelings about women bled through into his writing. (And lemme tell ya, that was pretty much the only thing that bled in this book.)

Last week I wrote about Professor Moriarty: The Hound of the D’Urbervilles that featured his henchman, Sebastian Moran as the protagonist. This guy is rotten and has no compunction about killing anyone. He certainly isn’t a women’s libber but it’s pertinent to the story. In Ring, women were objects of desire or dippy filler characters which had to be there to make the story move forward.

When I say “casual sexism” I mean that it seemed to flow naturally in the prose without the author being consciously aware of it. Here are a few gems from the main character:

“Asakawa was lost in thought, and didn’t want to be bothered. He wished his wife would act like her name, which meant “quiet”. The best way to seal a woman’s mouth was not to reply.”

“Housewives were susceptible to the ‘matter of life and death’ ploy. Whenever he needed to save time and get one moving, he found that the phrase had just the right impact.”

These may not seem like big deals, but the book was riddled with dismissive sentences like these which pretty much alienates half of the population.

About halfway through the book, his wife and daughter end up watching the video and he becomes angry. He gives her some vague explanation and she doesn’t pursue the matter. She doesn’t want to hear too much. She takes the baby and goes to her parent’s house for the rest of the book. Naturally, she wouldn’t have any input which would help her husband break the curse. She’s just a dumb housewife.

Let’s talk about his best friend for a moment. He’s an admitted rapist and he’s happy to tell our main character all about his exploits. The main character despises him for his behaviour, but shrugs it off as not being his problem.

Which leads me to the question: What is up with rape in Japanese media? I find it baffling. Yes, it’s going to happen in stories. It seems to be a part of human nature that these horrible things will happen, but sometimes it seems to be part of the story even if it doesn’t need to be. (Please see my Goodreads review of Paprika.) The other book I’m reading right now has a secondary character in it who was gang raped (which, thankfully happened “off-screen”). The main character spent a good portion of the story trying to avenge her, but in Ring nobody cares. It’s just something that happens. If there’s a pretty girl, someone is going to want to possess her (and not in an oooh oooh, I’m poltergeist kind of way) and inevitably she gets raped. And then we get to read paragraphs about the how the rapist justifies it. She obviously wanted it, he was doing her a favour, etc, etc…

These stories piss me off.

So now that I’ve had my rant, let’s talk about the last 30 pages or so which made me rethink some of the things I thought throughout most of the book. (And again, spoilers…)

So the rapist dies and one of his students tells us that he’s actually never had sex with anyone. So was he lying about raping women to impress/scare his best friend? Was he trying to look edgy and cool?

The thing that I find interesting about this situation is that the author has used the story to manipulate me into feeling something. Whether it’s anger, sadness, disgust, despair, I can respect that. Just to be clear, I’m not talking about the inherent misogyny that pervades the writing. I’m talking about a plot device which has made me rethink what I originally thought. According to his student, he was a nice guy. This made me think about her as a character witness. Is she reliable? What’s special about their relationship that would make her think that he’s a gentle, non-offensive person?

Unfortunately, this does not redeem the story entirely. I felt as though it wasn’t written with me in mind, but I’m glad that I finished it because it made me think about it in more detail when I nearly wrote it off completely.

The story continues in the next book, Spiral and there was a taster chapter at the end of the book. Again, there’s a gorgeous woman who is so achingly beautiful that some random stranger wants very badly to reach out and touch her. *sigh* I’ll probably give that one a miss.

  1. If you like thrillers, you might give Out by Natsuo Hirino a try. Disturbing, but really good. It won the Poe Award once translated. Possibly the scariest thing I’ve read, but that’s not saying much.

    • Interesting. I’ve not heard of that. I’m actually not a huge fan of horror, although I read it every now and again. If something is meant to be scary, I want it to scare the pants off of me. I’ll have to check it out. Thanks for the recommendation.

      • Well, I really can’t handle scary, maybe creepy is a better word, or just chilling… It’s a mystery/thriller, not a horror book. I also got the author’s name wrong, its Natsuo Kirino.

  2. Huh. I would normally have tried this book out because I liked the movie ‘The Ring’, which this obviously has some relation to, but while I can handle some of this kind of casual misogyny in other media, in a book it makes me want to strangle everyone, because in a book you’re more likely to hear the whole idiot stream-of-thought and therefore can’t just shrug it off.

    Alas, it’s in a lot of Japanese works, which I’d guess is a cultural issue–sexually and socially repressive, with women expected to slot into a few narrow roles. Not surprising that creative outlets get a bit creepy, obsessive and overblown, but it does make it plain that these works are for a narrow audience.

    • Since you mentioned casual misogyny in other media I’ve been racking my brains to think of an example. I think that you’re right about the fact that in books we’re in someone’s head. I actually don’t have a problem with it in a book if it’s pertinent to the story. A story would be boring if all the characters were good and noble. I do love a good villain, but there has to be a reason behind everything.

      My problem is when the authorial voice is sexist. There’s a line from a Clive Cussler book that is seared into my brain. “The voice on the phone was feminine but competent.” This implies that most people who are feminine are incompetent and that I shouldn’t read any of Cussler’s books.

      You’re very right that this is a main theme in Japanese works. It’s a shame that that’s the case because I’m drawn to stories which have interesting ideas and I’ve seen so many that look promising but have turned out to be flops.

      Also, I don’t plan on posting negative reviews (although they’re my thoughts rather than proper reviews) on books as I don’t really like to say bad things about someone’s hard work. I will only do it if a book is sexist, racist or otherwise discriminatory. This book wound me up, though, so I felt that it was worth talking about.

      Thanks for your comments!

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