I visited Japan in 1990, 1994, and 1998 for business. Each time I went, I had a greater appreciation and interest in the people and the culture. I suspect this went a long way into my interests in the catastrophe that killed an estimated 20,000 Japanese people on March 11, 2011, when the fourth largest earthquake ever recorded exploded off the coast of northeast Japan in the Tohoku region. Millions felt the quake, but the initial damage and casualties were remarkably light in this coastal area. The tsunami arrived about 45-50 minutes later.
I've seen the videos. Imagine the ocean inexplicably swelling and growing, reaching heights of over 120 feet in some remote coastal villages. Imagine fleeing to the nearby hills, watching your entire town and potentially thousands of people being swallowed up and swept away by an unforgiving, black, incompressible wave of liquid death. This book focuses in on the village of Kamaya, located near the mouth of the Kitakami River where it empties into the Pacific northeast of Ishinomaki.
A group of children and teachers at Okawa Elementary School in Kamaya felt the earthquake that day. Per protocol, the kids and teachers exited the building and dutifully lined up neatly in the school courtyard. They heard the tsunami warnings. What followed was confusion and a lack of urgency and correct decision making that proved lethal. The doomed group left the courtyard for what they thought was "higher ground" somewhat closer to the river. After the tsunami arrived, only 4 kids and 1 adult survived by actually running to a nearby hill.
Richard Lloyd Parry has detailed the actions and decisions of several families involved in this tragedy, from before to during and after the quake and the tsunami. He vividly and accurately describes the horror they experienced and the gut-wrenching aftermath of searching for their lost children, as well as their journey to find the truth of what actually happened that day at Okawa Elementary School. Parry also layers the book, to me at least, with an underlying sense of dread that this is but one of thousands of stories that occurred on that day when the seas swallowed the northeast coast of Japan, but for some reason this story seems to stand out among the tragedies.
In closing, this book is not for everyone...it is dark. But if you really want to get a sense of what some of the people of Japan went through during and after this geological event, I highly recommend this. My only criticism is Parry closed the book with spiritual comments of people being possessed by the "ghosts" of this event. This seemed a bit out of place for this book.
The Central Plaza Mansion apartment seems like too good a deal to pass up. Despite its location in the Tokyo metropolitan area, it's both cheap and spacious. It's also conveniently located near schools, shopping, and public transportation. Its only drawback is that it's surrounded on three sides by an enormous graveyard. Also, there's a very active crematorium nearby.
Almost immediately after Misao, Teppei, and their daughter Tamao move in, the family's pet finch, Pyoko, dies. Pyoko was young and seemed healthy and happy, but Misao and Teppei bury the bird and try to put it out of their minds. Unfortunately, there are other signs that moving into this building might not have been a good idea. Odd things keep showing up on their TV, and more people seem to be moving out of the building than are moving in. And then there's the basement, which somehow has an occasional chilly breeze despite having no windows.
I saw this on a list of "best horror novels by women" and immediately wanted to read it. I'm always up for trying another Japanese novel in translation, especially one written by a woman, and I was intrigued by the "creepy apartment" setting.
I really wanted to love this book. However, I had issues with a few very important aspects of the setting, and I disliked the way Koike used characters' stupidity to force scary scenes to happen.
I'll start with the setting. The apartment building had a basement with storage lockers that could be used by residents. For some reason the building was designed so that the elevator went all the way down to the basement but the emergency stairs did not. If someone went down to the basement and the elevator stopped working or there was a power outage, they were trapped down there. I had a tough time believing that such a building could legally have been built, but I also know nothing about Japanese building codes (the building was built in 1986 and the book was set in 1987).
I tried to ignore my issues with the basement's oddly restricted access, but the story kept slapping me in the face with things that didn't make sense. Characters would go down to the basement without telling anyone they were going there, or they'd decide to all go down at once rather than leaving at least one person upstairs who could call for help if necessary. Neither the elevator nor the basement had a call box, so if the elevator wasn't working there was no way to contact anyone for help. People kept going down to that stupid basement even after an incident that highlighted all the problems with its elevator-only access.
Which leads me to the issue of characters behaving like idiots. There were two big moments that really bugged me, one involving the elevator and one involving the way one particular character reacted to new developments in the basement near the end. That said, most of the characters could have died multiple times over because they kept using the elevator long after it was clear that it wasn't safe. Using the stairs to get up to the eighth floor every day would suck, sure, but after the first big incident in the basement I was a little surprised that Teppei, at least, didn't decide to go that route.
Large parts of this book were actually pretty good. Misao and Teppei's situation interested me, and I wondered whether it would get worked in the mystery of whatever was haunting the building. Seven years ago, Teppei was married to someone else and having an affair with Misao (not a spoiler - this is revealed in the first 16 pages). His wife committed suicide and Misao and Teppei got married sometime later. Teppei's first wife was the elephant in the room. Teppei didn't like to talk about her but also didn't feel particularly guilty about her death, while Misao seemed to feel at least some guilt. The way their marriage began also put a strain on their relationships with their family members.
I also liked the way other characters' warnings and move-outs gradually increased the tension. Unfortunately, it all fizzled out for some reason. I think it was partly due to how vague the supernatural stuff was. The stuff with the finch never went anywhere, and Koike never bothered to explain why the Kano family, in particular, had such a hard time getting away from the building. Also, some things that I thought would get more attention and become more a part of the supernatural happenings, like Misao's "blanking out" incident, were hardly mentioned again.
All in all, this was a quick but disappointing read.
If you're like me and worry about the fate of fictional animals, well, I've already mentioned what happened to the finch. The dog, Cookie,
probably doesn't survive either, but she's alive during her last on-page appearance and probably goes down fighting.
(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)
Still just as good as the first time I read it way back when I was first getting into M/M. I always worry that those "older" reads won't live up to my initial impressions of them, but this one does. It's even been long enough that even though I remembered the gist of mystery (the motive mostly) I didn't remember the whodunit, so it was fun to try to figure it out all over again.
Kiernan is fun and full of energy, and he's such a great balance to Matt, who is more even-tempered and still grieving the loss of his last boyfriend. It was a bit on the insta-love side, the story takes place in barely a week, but they go through enough and actually talk to each other about things instead of just lusting after each other (which they really don't do much of, actually). It makes their connection feel more real, instead of the shallow "he's so hot I MUST have him" nonsense you get in a lot of other romances.
Sheila and Aiden weren't as annoying as I remembered them being, even if they are a little too gushy over the guys finding love.
The narrator is pretty good. He did sound a little "the number you have called is not in service" at times, but when he was reading dialogue, he really got into all the characters and shined.
I was psyched for this one! I love these kinds of books that keep you guessing and sets you on the edge of suspense. Among other things that are prevalent throughout the novel. Unfortunately, I think I was just a little too hyped over this book.
Although the plot had some good moments and the occasional suspense, I found it lackluster and often wondering where this is going to take me. I wish the mystery and suspense was more heightened. It was a very flat plot with not much going for it except the mysterious bits and even then, it feels like you hit what you think it was a climax only for it to die down quick and we’re back to the same flat plot line again. It feels like a long dreary car ride with people you don’t like. (The entire book they’re frequently on the road, so this relates.)
When all the mystery is revealed - it was all right. Yet it felt like a simple shrug of the shoulder and it was off to go back home. It was a bit frustrating, and it wasn’t anything to be surprised about. Nothing creeping from out of the blue, or anything to blind side you. It’s similar to the feeling when you are opening a gift and you already know what it is. There’s not much element of surprise or much feeling to go with it.
However, the one theme I did like was the one with dementia. It’s pictured with accuracy and this aspect of the book was well written. You can feel the high strung energy and the main character feeling ready to snap when Carl starts going off track in his mind and unfortunately that’s really how it is when dealing with someone who is suffering from this disease. It’s extremely hard to maintain your patience but at the same time you are realizing it’s not their fault. Her relationship with Carl throughout the novel perfectly depicts this and because of this dynamic, this was why I stuck through and read the book.
This book could have been better in the suspense area. Overall the plot is pretty much lackluster and had few suspenseful moments. Worth reading? I say read for the character relationship and development. Otherwise those that want a scare or a surprise won’t find any of that in here at all.