Monday, October 17, 2016

hb#4: The Graveyard Apartment, by Mariko Koike

Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin's Press, 2016
originally published 1988
translated by Deborah Boliver Boehm
325 pp


".... something isn't quite right about this idyllic tableau..."

Halloween just wouldn't be Halloween without a graveyard somewhere, and this one just happens to be in Tokyo.  And in the middle of this graveyard sits the Central Plaza Mansion, home to the Kanos, who have an apartment on the eighth floor.  It's a luxury space with everything a family could possibly want, including a storage space in the basement.  The one drawback is the view, the only thing that Misao Kano doesn't like:
"...nobody in their right mind would intentionally invest in a property surrounded on three sides by a cemetery, a temple where funerals were held, and a busy crematorium." 
However, since Misao had felt compelled to give up her job due to an unfortunate incident involving husband Teppei's first wife, the price was too perfect to pass up.

The Kano family's first day in the apartment is somewhat marred by the odd death of daughter Tamao's bird, who, the little girl claims,  comes back to talk to her at night to tell her that where he's at now is a place "full of bad monsters with big scary faces..." and that "when those monsters speak, a big wind starts to blow and everyone gets sucked into a giant hole."

Life goes on as the Kanos meet the few neighbors in their building, enroll Tamao at school, and Misao begins working from home.  Every so often they notice some peculiar things, for example,  Misao starts seeing feathers from the dead bird they'd buried, one day TV had  a "humanoid shadow" on a particular channel, and a drunken neighbor tells Teppei that she hates the "horrible hellhole" of the building's basement.  Misao isn't a big fan either, especially after little Tamao meets with an inexplicable accident down there and for some reason they can't access the basement to reach her until a neighbor who just happens to be a spirit medium is able to make the elevator work again.   But the clincher comes as one by one, the residents of Central Plaza Mansion begin to move out of the building until  ....

So far, this brief synopsis sounds like something right up my horror-reading alley, and it had potential to become a definite spine chiller had I not felt like I was reading a twisted Japanese version of the movie Poltergeist.  Not only was this book a "been there, done that" sort of thing for me, but it moved at a snail's pace -- while some weird things happened, they did so sort of piecemeal, with a lot of space in between which for me only deadened any sort of creep factor I was looking for. Acknowledging that it did have its moments, these were not enough to make the sense of horror at all sustainable over the course of the novel.   By the time the "last thirty pages" came along, which were supposed to have readers "holding your breath" according to the back cover blurb, I was just ready to be done and to leave the Kanos to their fate.  I'll also say that there was a major opportunity to make this a stronger horror novel that was missed and if anyone wants to talk about it after reading, let me know. It has to do with the so-called "dark secret" alluded to on the dustjacket blurb (which actually, everyone except the Kanos' neighbors knew about already so it wasn't actually a secret at all - who writes this stuff?) and a certain memorial tablet and shrine that somehow forgot to be taken care of...

Once again, I'm the little red fish swimming against the tide of blue, since this book seems to be making horror readers everywhere happy people.  I really, really wanted to like it, but the truth is that it just didn't wow me.  I had decided to read a more modern horror story to prove to myself that I wasn't a one-trick pony taking pleasure only in vintage chills, but it just wasn't the right one for me.  That doesn't mean it might not be someone else's cup of cha,  but in this case, it just wasn't mine.

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