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review 2018-04-09 12:44
The Graveyard Apartment by Mariko Koike, translated by Deborah Boliver Boehm
The Graveyard Apartment: A Novel - Mariko Koike,Deborah Boliver Boehm

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.

Additional Comments:

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.

(spoiler show)

 

(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)

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text 2018-04-09 06:44
Reading progress update: I've read 324 out of 324 pages.
The Graveyard Apartment: A Novel - Mariko Koike,Deborah Boliver Boehm

Well, that was disappointing. Also, even though I'm usually a horror wimp I didn't think it was particularly scary. A few creepy moments here and there, but none of it ever built up to anything worse, even considering how things ended.

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text 2018-04-09 04:29
Reading progress update: I've read 291 out of 324 pages.
The Graveyard Apartment: A Novel - Mariko Koike,Deborah Boliver Boehm

"And everyone knows how this nightmare is going to end. We're all going to die a hideous, horrible death in a pool of our own sweat."

 

It's horrible of me, but this made me laugh.

 

Right now the characters seem to be faced with two choices, either a slow and horrible death by starvation/suffocation/dehydration upstairs, or a quick and horrible death by supernatural beings down in the basement. Oh wait, there's a third choice: jumping off the roof.

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text 2018-04-09 00:35
Reading progress update: I've read 234 out of 324 pages.
The Graveyard Apartment: A Novel - Mariko Koike,Deborah Boliver Boehm

Misao, Teppei, and Tamao are almost free of the building, but there are still quite a few more pages to go. Their next 24 hours are probably going to be rough.

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text 2018-04-08 20:03
Reading progress update: I've read 170 out of 324 pages.
The Graveyard Apartment: A Novel - Mariko Koike,Deborah Boliver Boehm

This has officially dropped below a 3-star read, and that makes me sad. I wanted to love this book, or at least like it, but the characters are unbelievably stupid.

 

I think there are just four occupied apartments right now: the one where the building managers live, Misao and her family, Eiko and her family, and a hostess who comes home late. The hostess hasn't come home yet.

 

The building managers asked Teppei (Misao's husband) to accompany them down to the basement to check things out, because there was an incident that worried them. Okay. But when they got down there and the elevator malfunctioned again, the building managers confirmed that there's no call box that folks trapped downstairs or in the elevator could use to contact someone and get it fixed. Also, the building managers, who I emphasize are both downstairs right now, are the only ones with the contact info for the elevator repair person.

 

After an hour, Misao gets worried and contacts Eiko and her husband. These three people are the only adults currently in the building who are not down in the basement. When the elevator starts working again, all three of these adults get in and go down to the basement. They considered calling the cops but decided against it. I fully expect the next few pages to feature all six adults currently in the building getting trapped in the basement after the elevator stops working again.

 

The stupid, it burns.

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