Review – “Ring”

I would like to submit a new phrase for society’s consideration/adoption, somewhat relative to the ubiquitous “Never judge a book by its cover.” The phrase is:

Never let a book’s film adaptation dictate your expectations for its source material.

Ring by Koji Suzuki
Huge shoutout to Amazon seller “Better World Books: East”. This book was described as “used – very good condition”. What I received I have a hard time believing was anything less than a brand new, never-even-been-handled-let-alone-opened beauty. Would definitely by from them again.

Now, you’ve probably already rolled your eyes so hard you saw your own grey matter, whilst muttering “No shit Sherlock, everyone knows movies basically bastardize their source material.” Granted. However, would you be willing to agree, that it’s fair to expect the source material of a movie you thought was wonderfully creepy to be just as, if not creepier? Yes, my expectations were high, but justifiably so: books are nearly always better than the films they spawn. So I ask you, is it so wrong to have expected spine-tingling awesomeness from Suzuki, and then be disappointed when it only intermittently gave me goosebumps?

Ring is by no means a bad novel, not by any stretch of the imagination; to be fair, I’m not too sure if my feeling of having been let down is my own “fault” for expecting “more of the same, just better” as compared to the The Ring film (U.S. version; I have not seen Ringu…yet) OR, if the reading of other reviews of the book confirmed my expectations, prior to cracking it open. For example, from the back cover of the book:

“So creepy your hair will literally stand on end.” – Asian Week

Is Ring a page-turner? Hell yes. The second it arrived I excitedly tore into it, and couldn’t put it down for the next 24 hours. I had a deadline for a micro fiction contest through NYC Midnight, and I struggled to concentrate on my own work. The last time I read anything quite this fast was two years ago, when a dear friend of mine sent me Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo. I flew through those 560 pages in one sitting, much to the detriment of the circulation in my legs.

Ring’s greatest strengths come from Suzuki’s ability to guide the reader, and make them feel the same sense of urgency as his characters.  You feel as if you share the same brain space as the main character, a journalist by the name of Asakawa. Every step or decision in his investigation of the mysterious deaths of four teenagers is laid out as he thinks it through, so we feel like active participants – or better yet, partners – in his deductive reasoning. Not once did the events feel contrived, no “Now how in the world did he reach that conclusion?” or “Why would he look there?” etc. etc. It all felt very, very real. This same careful handling of details made some of the more supernatural elements, i.e., the ability of a powerful psychic to embed deadly images on a videotape after their death, a bit easier to swallow.

A good portion of the investigative “heavy lifting” is shared with Asakawa’s former classmate, Ryuji. Asakawa hesitates to call him “friend”, or at least, cannot comfortably do so, and shortly upon Ryuji’s introduction, we find out why. Ryuji is the perfect foil for Asakawa; he thrills in this macabre search, whereas Asakawa frequently becomes tangled in his own fear and disgust. Will he figure out “the charm” of this mysterious, sinister video tape that promises to kill its viewers within a week of watching it? His dread is contagious, and we find ourselves agreeing with Asakawa’s viewpoint, that the only plausible reason Ryuji can be so cool – even cavalier – during the whole investigation is because he doesn’t truly believe in this sinister promise.

…or does he?

When Asakawa’s frantic “what-if”s threaten to derail the narrative, Ryuji appears just in time to propel the story forward with a new discovery as the week winds down. If Suzuki had been too heavy-handed with moments like these (and he comes close, once or twice) Ryuji would have felt like a continuous deus ex machina; instead, his character is absolutely key to the story’s fluid pacing.

~ Very mild spoilers ~

My only major gripe with the novel is its climax. Without giving far too much away, when something we expect to happen finally does occur, we are not given a front row seat to witness it. Rather, we learn about it after the fact, and this failure to let the audience in on a key scene left this reader feeling very robbed. 

~ End of very mild spoilers ~

In spite of my desire to be utterly terrified never being realized, (much like when I read Haunting of Hill House…it still boggles my mind that Shirley Jackson’s work sits atop countless “best horror novel” lists…but that is a post unto itself, best left for another time) I was very much drawn into Ring. Was I creeped out while reading it? At several points, yes, but I would classify it more as a supernatural thriller than a horror novel. When viewed through that lens, it succeeds spectacularly. And while I did not set out to write a comparison post of Ring versus its American film counterpart, part of why I recommend giving the novel a read is because the American adaptation is such a departure from it. (For that matter, I’ve read that the original film adaptation, the Japanese Ringu is a departure in its own right, as director Hideo Nakata decided to omit the sci-fi elements of Suzuki’s narrative.)

Overall rating: I give Ring three &’s out of five, and I will eagerly seek out the next installment in Suzuki’s Ring trilogy.

– &i