Finding this book was perhaps more challenging than finding any of the other books on this list. While the majority of them are classics that are held in most libraries this one was a little bit tougher to find. It was originally published in 1990 but wasn’t translated for North American readers until the mid-2000s when the popularity of the movie was at its peak. When I took an impromptu trip to Chapter’s – before I started reading Psycho – I decided to take a glance at their horror section (which might I add is frighteningly tiny – hahaha pun fully intended). Every book had a black cover with a tiny bit of colour splashed on top, which is what made this one stand out that much more. Once I saw the bright red and white striped book I knew that I was going to spend money that day. Before I left the store though I searched for it in the Chapter’s in-store search guide and found that it was one of only three copies available in the city. I thanked my luck for bringing me to this book and prepared myself for some Japanese Horror.
The Main Character
The main character in Ring is an investigative reporter who recently fell from grace for allowing an article surrounding the supernatural to be published for the magazine he works for. He is in search of a story to redeem himself and once he discovers that there may be a story surrounding the death of his niece and her three friends he begins pursuing it. The issue with the main character Asakawa, is that he’s an investigative journalist researching this the way an investigative journalist does. By examining facts, recording minute and irrelevant details. He turned what could have been something terrifying and spiritual into almost a chore. So if he found someone who may know something about Sadako (Samara in the North American version) he would need to travel to meet them….so he’d call to book a boat ticket, then make a car rental reservation, take the subway to the car rental place, drive to the boat yard, take the ferry, catch a cab, then meet the person who knew the information. A lot of the time when he’d finally get to the person I had lost all interest because I was tired from reading each minute detail of his travels, the buildup was too long and the payoff was too small a lot of the time. It became interesting when he finally brought his friend on board who acted a lot more of the paranormal investigator who would look at the case from abstract angles, trust his gut and discuss potential paranormal theory. Asakawa, the journalist who only came to reasonable conclusions often frustratingly dismissed his ideas or was reluctant to follow leads. As a main character he wasn’t the most relatable, but the final few pages in the book you finally got to understand him a little bit better and when he leaves you off on a cliffhanger you finally relate to him because you end up asking yourself “what would I do?” Overall he was the least interesting character in the book, his role was more of an observer who was meant to document the happenings while his friend Ryuji solved the case for him. Was he necessary for the story to unfold? Yes of course. Would I have liked to have seen a more relatable character who also contributed to the story? Yes of course.
As I just said, the supporting cast was by far the more interesting of the bunch. You read this entire book and keep hoping that his friend Ryuji is involved, because scenes where absent are dull and slow. Ryuji is perhaps the most complicated character of this book and after reading it you really question what his true motives were. He is portrayed as a large, athletic, handsome, charming, black humoured showoff with little to no morals. And yet when Asakawa speaks to Mai, Ryuji’s closest friend, she tells him that he was incredibly shy, often vulnerable, friendless and admitted to having never been with a woman. She describes him as a 10 year old who is just looking for approval. Throughout the novel Ryuji tries his best to be seen as an immoral man and even admits a few of his past (and horrific) crimes to Asakawa. However after reading that he liked to boast to try to get people to not see the real him you questioned whether he ever committed any of these crimes and if he was a bad guy at all. Originally you find yourself saying “I like him, but I have to remember he’s a horrible person” then in the end you say “so…….should I like him or not!?” The other side characters weren’t nearly as interesting as Ryuji but were still interesting to read. Asakawa’s wife was one you often felt sorry for as he described her lonely life as the wife of an investigator reporter and not a chapter was written about her where she didn’t have her baby at arm’s length. Basically implying that this became the only world that she knew, she’d sleep beside the baby, she woke with it, she bathed with it. She just seemed so isolated from the outside world that you often felt sorry for her whenever he’d call her and tell her he wouldn’t be coming home again, or not to wait up or that she was to go back upstairs when he was looking at the evidence. The side characters that they would interview while investigating Sadako’s past were often really well written and at times added to the creepiness of the story. My previous paragraph about Asakawa were by no means a criticism on the author’s ability to create well written characters, it was moreso me venting that the main character he chose to focus on was the least interesting one in this bunch.
The explanation of the video’s origin, the ‘villain’s motives and how to defeat it were so incredibly satisfying in this book. This story focused less on the idea of ghosts and such and moreso on psychic abilities. The reason why this was more terrifying is because once you realize the origin of the video you realize that Sadako wasn’t doing this with the intention of hurting anyone, rather the video was a result of her rage towards society that bonded with a physical disease she had contracted right before she died. Her psychic abilities then projected her hatred, death and disease in a single form and released it to the closest possible thing that could project the message, ie. The video. The book treated this video as more of a disease than anything else and THAT was the true villain, and what’s more terrifying than a faceless enemy who kills without reason. Sadako actually comes off entirely sympathetic (Unlike Samara), as she was the illegitimate child of a mother with psychic abilities, and a University Professor who was having an affair with her mother. Her mother became the focus of media attention as a psychic and as a result ended up having a breakdown after being called a fraud time and time again which resulted in her suicide. Her father went mad by trying to prove that she did in fact have psychic abilities and in the end died of a terminal illness. When visiting her father on his death bed she is attacked by a doctor who loses his impulse controls as a result of her psychic abilities accidentally spilling out of her. Once he realizes what he’s done he panics and throws her in the bottom of the well. She was described as creepy but that was a result of her psychic abilities and not due to a desire for harming others, think of her more like Carrie. I often argue that sometimes when trying to give villains more interesting backstories authors can at times make them too sympathetic to the point where you want them to succeed (Watch the movie Unfriended…..review to come!). But Sadako was one you just felt bad for, and when you realize she never meant to unleash this video on the world which served as a virus, you feel even worse for her since she’ll be remembered as a villain and not a victim.
The Movie Comparison
I believe the conversation that best summarizes the movie/book comparison is that of Rachel Green and Ross Geller.
Rachel: Was she good?
Ross: She was…….different?
Ross: Nobody likes change!
What I’m getting at is the book was good, the movie was good but it’s tough to directly compare them because it was related closely enough to the book that you can’t say it was entirely different. But it was removed enough that you can’t say, well there were only a few changes. There’s of course the obvious ones – the book has a male protagonist who’s married with an infant and investigates with his friend and the movie has a female protagonist with an 8 year old child and investigates with her ex/baby daddy. What was different about these two things was really the core message. In the movie Samara is a child who’s evil, her adoptive parents feared her and as a result abused her which fueled her hatred even more. She personally would come out of the tv and claim her victims once their 7 days passed. In the book however Sadako was an adult at the time of her death and was a sympathetic character whose parents dealt with mental health issues that resulted in neglect and in the end her hatred was released upon her death and accidentally created a means of killing those who watched the video. The movie treated this as a paranormal /monster movie while the book treated it as a virus epidemic since the only way to survive was to make a copy and have someone else watch the video thus condemning them to 7 days to live. The only way they could survive was to make a copy and give it to someone else and so on and so forth until the video was in mass distribution etc. Both had terrifying climax’s but really they were so different that I can’t say one was better over the other. It was moreso like these were two different stories told within the same universe, so if you liked the movie you’ll probably like the book.
As for the Ring 2….it was terrible and deserves no further mention.
It’s good. Is it the best horror novel I’ve ever read? No, I feel like since this is a translation a lot of the author’s voice was lost and that may have contributed to it. It was also a bit slow at times and would go long periods without any real scares happening as it was more of an investigation than anything else. But the bits that were meant to straight out scare you did, the video was different but equally creepy and Sadako’s backstory was enough to make you continue fearing Japanese ghost girls. If you like horror you’ll like this book, but if you don’t then I don’t think this will be the book to win you over. Overall a lot of fun, and it makes me never want to watch TV alone in a hotel room ever again!