Tuesday, October 23, 2007

with the lights out

When an American child tires of everyday routine they might gun down their school friends - a Japanese child might behead them. Always eager for something a little twisted I thought I would kick off my R.I.P. II challenge reading with a serving of horror Japanese style.

‘The return of the dead fundamentally undermines the order of the living, and I wholeheartedly shared Kei’s conviction that contact with such beings was something to be avoided.’

Sounds like common sense to most of us - not so for Harada, central character in Taichi Yamada’s Strangers. When he meets a couple who bear uncanny resemblance to his long dead parents he doesn’t run a mile, instead he slots them neatly into his social schedule, spending evenings eating with them, playing cards with them.

This novel deftly walks the fine line between what we wish (perhaps unconsciously) for and what happens when wishes comes true. The horror comes when we are shown our inability to resist returning to something highly dangerous to us - something everyone around us, except us, can see is steadily killing us.

Yamada tells a neat little story. Initially we are lulled by a setting far from typically scary - no remote country house, instead a modern developed cityscape. But one by one those essential scare boxes are ticked - the failed light switch, the empty building, the character questioning their sanity when faced with the impossible, the silence -

‘…it hit me how quiet the building was. Too quiet, I thought.’

Yamada also makes skilful use of repetition - lines, images and encounters occur again and again and grow more unsettling each time. My only concern was that the prose felt somewhat disconnected and passive but perhaps this owes more to the translation than to the original text.

All in all a good creepy read with no screaming, no hysterics, no moonlit chases - just a slow steady crawl of goose-bumps across your skin.

1 comment:

Stewart said...

Taichi Yamada's Strangers is a book I constantly look at in bookshops but never buy. Part of me links it with the interest in Japanese horror (Koji Suzuki, etc.) but I grew up reading horror, so think it would be a guilty pleasure. I wonder if my library has it