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Friday, 8 May 2015

Ring by Koji Suzuki

This is not the first time that I've read Ring. The first time I read it, I was in my early to mid teenage years, and I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. Since I'm not terribly keen on actually watching horror movies due to the fact that jump scares trigger my sensory issues, that meant reading the book instead. I remembered the ending more than anything, so my experience re-reading it was odd to say the least.

Anyone who doesn't at least have a concept of the plot of Ring, then they have probably been living under a rock for the last decade or so, but I've set a precedent, so here goes. Ring follows a journalist, Asakawa, who discovers that, seemingly by coincidence, four teenagers all died of sudden heart failure at exactly the same time and with no prior history of heart trouble. The fact that they all died with looks of astonishment and terror on their faces whilst frantically clawing at their hair only makes the similarities more striking. It is only when he finds out where they connect that the situation becomes deathly serious; he finds a video tape that they watched exactly a week before their deaths with the following message at the end:
"Those who have viewed these images are fated to die at this exact hour one week from now. If you do not wish to die, you must follow these instructions exactly..." 
The only problem is that someone taped over the part of the tape with the instructions for survival. Having inadvertently shortened his lifespan quite drastically, he desperately tries to work out what he needs to do to break the curse, dragging his best friend Ryuji into the search in the process.
The first time that I read this, I loved it. The pacing was great, the mystery behind the tape engaging and the horror elements were fantastically eerie and just often enough to keep the appetite whetted. The final twist at the end was the cherry on top, leaving a real sense of dread and a really vivid memory of the reading experience. That twist is also the reason why Ring had little to no re-read value to it. I went into it this time with a pretty vivid recollection of what happened, and boy does it spoil a lot of the fun. When you re-read things, you notice things that were previously little and seemingly unimportant in a whole new light. There are many books that benefit from this and Ring is not one of them precisely because the majority of the suspense is dependent on the reader being ignorant of what the origin and reason for the video tape's existence. When you read it with the full knowledge of what is going to happen to these characters, your attention is drawn to the things that make it unintentionally uncomfortable or distracting. For me, this re-read ended up being an unsatisfactory experience watching two rather unpleasant men on a rather bumbling journey across Japan, as I had no real sense of suspense left. It brought to light that the two protagonists aren't really given many positive features to endear themselves to the audience, and that there are some statements that are uncomfortably sexist in feel if not overt purpose.

I feel conflicted about this. If you are in any way familiar with more plot details than the bare concept of Ring, then the reading experience is less suspense and horror than plodding through a weird sort of manhunt. Not one for repeat reading. 2.5/5

Next review: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith

Signing off,

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