The Girl from the Well, by Rin Chupeco
Genre: Teen Horror / Suspense
Reason for Reading: This book was provided by the publisher, Sourcebooks Fire, through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
Summary: Tarquin (Tark) Halloway has been haunted his entire life. With a mentally ill mother and a caring father who works too much, he feels he has no one to talk to about the strange lady that slinks through mirrors and makes Tark do terrible things. But when he meets a roaming spirit, Okiku, they both begin to remember what it is to be human. With the help from Tark’s cousin Callie, Okiku and Tark must rid himself of his haunting.
My Thoughts: Let me tell you, if I had read this book when I was 14, I would have been sleeping with the lights on for weeks. The spookiness / imagery is reminiscent of Japanese horror films that The Grudge (Ju-On: The Grudge) and The Ring (Ringu) were based on. (Have you seen the originals? Not the American remakes. Watch the real thing. Darn spooky! That’s what The Girl From the Well is like.) Same evil-ghost-child-with-long-creepy-hair-staring-at-you-in-crazy-fast-did-that-actually-just-happen-flashes feel to it.
Part of Rin Chupeco’s spooky genius is her narration style. The story is narrated from the POV of the ghost, Okiku. Often, it reads like a 3rd person omniscient narrative, because Okiku mostly observes rather than acting. I often forgot I was reading a first person POV, and then suddenly Okiku would say something in the first person, and it was like she had just appeared out of nowhere. Like a ghost. Spooky. And then, sometimes Okiku would describe herself in the third person – a description of a ghost as Callie or Tark would have seen. This gave Okiku’s character a sense of otherness. She felt inhuman. Ineffable.
Overall, I think this was an fantastic book, and I look forward to reading more of Chupeco’s works. I miss the old days when ghosts were ghosts and monsters were monsters. I applaud Chupeco’s work as one more for the #reclaimhorror team. (Ok, I just made that hashtag up, so technically she’s the first on the team. But it’s all good.)
Rin Chupeco: Despite uncanny resemblances to Japanese revenants, Rin Chupeco has always maintained her sense of humor. Raised in Manila, Philippines, she keeps four pets: a dog, two birds, and a husband. She’s been a technical writer and travel blogger, but now makes things up for a living. The Girl from the Well is her debut novel. Connect with Rin at www.rinchupeco.com.
2012 Book 165: The Rape of Nanking
Written by Iris Chang, Narrated by Anna Fields
Reason for Reading: Reading Globally group on LibraryThing’s China and surrounding countries theme read.
In the early 1930’s the Chinese city of Nanking was occupied by Japanese soldiers. Tens of thousands of civilians were killed by Japanese soldiers to save money for supplies. Women were brutally raped and mutilated. But the stories of these victims and the foreigners who risked their lives to help them are not often told. Iris Chang wanted the world to know about these atrocities. Her brutal history was very difficult for me to read because the atrocities were described in such detail that I felt sick. I had to take frequent breaks. But it was a very engaging narrative, so I always wanted to pick it back up again. Chang certainly knew how to write an interesting story! Several times while reading the book, though, I felt as though Chang was too emotionally involved to write a completely reliable narrative. I’m not denying the massacres at Nanking, mind, but I think Chang had a very anti-Japanese view which would have made her prefer the larger estimates for death numbers, made especially-brutal rapes sound more common than they may have been, and made the Japanese sound purely evil as a whole group without exception. Nevertheless, this book taught me a lot about the relationship between the Chinese and the Japanese. As long as the readers keep in mind Chang’s emotions, they can learn a lot from this engaging history.
I now have a hankering for a nice book about friendly, likable Japanese people. If you have any suggestions, let me know! 🙂
2012 Book 159: The Garden of the Evening Mists, by Tan Twan Eng
Reason for Reading: Short-listed for the 2012 Booker Prize
Having suffered through a Japanese slave-camp during WWII, Yun Ling Teoh, a young Chinese-descent lawyer in Malaysia, carries around a lot of anger against the Japanese. However, she’d made a promise to her deceased sister that she would build a Japanese garden, so she reluctantly visits Aritomo – the only Japanese gardener in Malaysia. Aritomo refuses to design a garden for Yun Ling, but he offers to take her on as his apprentice so that she may design one herself. Yun Ling learns to let go of her anger as her friendship with Aritomo grows. But Aritomo has his own secrets.
How can I express what an amazing book this was? Sure, it had a couple of slowish spots (it WAS, after all, a book about gardening) but the story is magical. The historical and cultural backdrop is intriguing (I learned a lot while reading, but didn’t feel like I was being “taught”). Because the book takes place in two different times (current day and shortly after WWII), the story unfolds gracefully – allowing the reader to learn the story of Aritomo and Yun Ling at just the right rate…but yet somehow the time also blends together giving an impression of continuity that is particular to Eastern philosophy. On top of that, the more I learned about the story, the more fascinated I was by the two characters. This book is definitely worth your time.
Interpretive note with possible spoilers
One thing that struck me while I was reading this book is that I noticed an inconsistency in what the narrator (Yun Ling) was saying. At first, I wasn’t sure whether the author had made a mistake or if he had purposely introduced inconsistencies to show that Yun Ling had either an unreliable memory or was hiding something. I finally came to the later conclusion (though the unreliable memory was possible too). I think it’s fascinating that such inconsistencies added to the overall effect rather than subtracting from it. I applaud Tan Twan Eng for his careful writing of this book. 🙂
2012 Book 137: Kafka on the Shore
Written by Haruki Murakami; Narrated by Sean Barrett and Oliver Le Sueur
Reason for Reading: In order to increase awareness of speculative fiction authors-of-color for A More Diverse Universe blog tour, I have read and reviewed Kafka on the Shore, by Haruki Murakami, which is Japanese magical realism / surrealism. This is one of the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die, and it won “best novel” for the World Fantasy Award in 2006.
Kafka on the Shore follows two seemingly unrelated characters whose stories collide in surreality. The first character is a 15-year-old runaway boy who has renamed himself Kafka Tamura. Kafka runs away from his father for reasons that slowly reveal themselves as the plot thickens. He ends up in an obscure library, where he must overcome a dark curse. The second character is Nakata, an old man who suffered an injury as a child and lives as on a stipend for the mentally disabled. Nakata may not be very smart, but he can talk to cats, and he has an uncanny ability to accept surreal events at face value, thus providing a unique perspective to the strange plot twists. Kafka on the Shore highlights the extreme effects alienation can have on a person’s psyche. It had some VERY dark undercurrents (and even one scene of brutality that was quite shocking). It was a fascinating story, but after thinking about it for several days, I’m still unable to figure out quite what it meant. Perhaps it was only an expression of dark loneliness and nothing more? Whether I’m missing the deeper meaning or not, I greatly enjoyed reading my first Murakami book, and look forward to reading many more of these fascinating works.
About the Author
Haruki Murakami was born in Kyoto, Japan in 1949 to parents who taught Japanese literature. Murakami was greatly influenced by Western culture. His “modernist” books invoke an interesting mixture of classical music, Western literature, and Japanese culture. Like many surreal / modernist writers, his novels depict alienation, loneliness, and trauma.
It’s interesting that I followed up The Blind Owl with Kafka on the Shore. Both are Asian surrealism (which I haven’t read too very much of) and both have explicit use of the Oedipus complex. Is the Oedipus complex a common characteristic of surreal literature? Or a common characteristic of Asian modernist fiction? Or maybe the Oedipus complex is a defining characteristic of alienated characters? Maybe it was just a coincidence. I guess I’ll see as I read more of these types of books. 🙂 I have decided to include Kafka on the Shore in the R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril VII challenge because of the unexpected dark undercurrents.