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review 2018-09-01 23:01
Spiral by Koji Suzuki, translated by Glynne Walley
Spiral - Glynne Walley,Koji Suzuki

Spiral begins hours after Ring's ending and stars Ando, a medical examiner who was once classmates with Ryuji, one of the main characters in Ring. Ando performs Ryuji's autopsy and is intrigued by several findings. First, Ryuji died of sudden heart failure despite being otherwise very healthy. Second, he has a mysterious ulcer in his throat. Further tests eventually reveal that Ryuji may have been killed by a virus that bears an eerie resemblance to smallpox. As Ando investigates, he learns of several other victims. But how is the virus transmitted? What does it do? And why did one man who was exposed to it, Asakawa, survive? The case takes on greater urgency when Mai, Ryuji's lover, disappears. Was she exposed via Ryuji somehow, and can she still be saved?

I highly recommend that those who haven't read the first book, Ring, do so before reading this one. And then maybe just stop there. Although Spiral tied up a few of Ring's loose ends, I didn't consider it to be a worthwhile continuation.

Suzuki attempted to make Sadako's curse more scientific rather than supernatural in this book, and it really didn't work for me. I could accept that the curse was virus-like in its transmission and requirements, but Suzuki also had it behaving

both like a sperm and an egg (just because it happened to sort of look like them?). Also, Suzuki envisioned DNA producing exact replicas of people, right down to their memories up to some point before their original death ("junk DNA" is a recording of a person's memories, or some nonsense like that). This went way beyond what I was willing to accept, even in a horror series featuring a killer videotape.

And the part where Suzuki gave Ryuji a special ability to communicate with Sadako made me want to bite something. There was no sign that Ryuji had any kind of paranormal abilities - he should not have been able to form an agreement with Sadako the way he did, or use his own corpse to create codes for Ando to decipher. And Sadako, considering her history, should have hated a rapist like Ryuji too much to let him somehow use her own abilities.

(spoiler show)


There were a few nicely creepy scenes, but for the most part Ring had a better and more unnerving atmosphere than Spiral. Ando spent a lot of time trying to figure out the stuff Asakawa had already figured out in the first book, and a little more time trying to figure out what Asakawa hadn't gotten wrong. There were a couple code deciphering sections that reminded me of parts of works like Soji Shimada's The Tokyo Zodiac Murders, inviting readers to decipher the codes along with Ando, but those ended up feeling more like filler than anything particularly useful. And speaking of filler, there was a excruciating 20-page summary of everything that happened in Ring, because apparently Suzuki couldn't trust that readers of Spiral had read the book before it. Yes, this section tied in with a discovery later in the book, but Suzuki could have accomplished the same thing in a couple pages.

Spiral reminded me a great deal of Hideaki Sena's Parasite Eve in the way it tried to incorporate science into its horrific supernatural developments, and also in the way it crapped on most of its few female characters.

I was cautiously optimistic that Mai would be a main character I could actually root for, despite her unfortunate affection for Ryuji. She seemed to be reasonably intelligent and not too much of a wet washcloth. Whereas Ando developed an instant crush on Mai, she spoke to him mostly out of a wish to maintain a connection to Ryuji and wasn't the slightest bit interested in any other sort of relationship with him. At the same time, she wasn't so attached to Ryuji as to fall completely apart after his death. She kept her professional commitments in mind and tried to fulfill them.

Unfortunately, my expectation that Mai would turn out to be one of the main characters of this book, working with Ando the way Ryuji worked with Asakawa in the first book, turned out to be way off the mark. After a couple on-page appearances, she disappeared from the text except as occasional motivation for Ando. Her ultimate fate depressed me, as did

Suzuki's reduction of women of child-bearing age to nothing more than potential incubators for Sadako.

(spoiler show)


Some of Ando's thoughts about Mai were bizarre and made me wonder if Suzuki had any idea about how female bodies work. When I first started the book, I snickered at the way Ando instantly concluded that Mai must be having her period because of one vague sentence from her and the fact that she looked pale. While I realize that some women have overly heavy or lengthy periods that can give them anemia, considering the situation I'd have assumed that Mai was pale because she was in shock at having discovered Ryuji's body only a few hours earlier. This thing about Mai having her period came up multiple times in the book, with Ando concluding each time that his intuition must have been correct. Ando also seemed to think it was perfectly natural for a grown woman's used underwear to smell like milk (yes, there's a part where he sniffs her underwear - it's one of the first things he does when he's left alone in her apartment).

I doubt I'll be continuing this series, and I kind of wish I had stopped after reading Ring. The new developments in Spiral made me more angry than excited. One thing I was left with was a desire to find and read more Japanese horror written by women. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem like much has been translated into English. I've already read Mariko Koike's The Graveyard Apartment and would welcome other recommendations.

 

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

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review 2018-08-21 18:27
Cleverus Dickus: "Metamorphoses (Norton Critical Edition)" by Ovid (Author), Charles Martin (Translator)
Metamorphoses: A New Translation - Ovid,Charles Martin,Bernard Knox


“God himself helps those who dare.” 


in "Metamorphoses (Norton Critical Edition)" by Ovid (Author), Charles Martin (Translator)


When I think on Ovid and Shakespeare, my own poetic streak resurfaces. Read at your own peril (word of warning: If you don't know either your Shakespeare or your Ovid, what follows won't make much sense):


Sentenced to exile! - be seated-
Let me roll back the years-
(Please lend me your ears)-
And give me the closure I've needed.

(...)

 

If you're into stuff like this, you can read the full review.

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review 2018-08-20 11:33
Spiritual Poetry: "Hölderlin - Poemas" by Friedrich Hölderlin
POEMAS - Friedrich Hölderlin,Paulo Quintela


If Hölderlin did it why can’t I do it too? Here it goes:

Yes, we need some good poets
And I think we all know it’s
Something we’re lacking….
My mind I am fracking
But still failing to see
how wishing makes it be.
They fuckitup,
We suckitup.

When I was young, appendectomy was done under local anaesthesia. I was so afraid, I might end up in a situation like that, that I memorised some of Hölderlin's poems in a Portuguese translation by Paulo Quintela, as ways of coping with my fear. I never had an appendectomy as a child, but I still recite in my mind some of those long ago learned Hölderlin's poems when I have to sit in a dentist's chair...

 

 

If you're into stuff like this, you can read the full review.

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review 2018-07-22 17:34
The Ultimate Tragedy by Abdulai Sila
The Ultimate Tragedy - Jethro Soutar,Abdulai Sila

In 2017, this book apparently became the first novel (though more of a novella really, clocking in around 180 pages) from Guinea-Bissau to be translated into English. It doesn’t do too well in the storytelling department, and despite being first published in 1995 it is a simplistic criticism of Portuguese colonialism (Guinea-Bissau became independent in 1973-1974), so I can see why there wasn’t a rush to translate. But of course there’s something to be said for reading voices from a particular place even if their literary merits are weak.

There will be SPOILERS below, though no more than are found in the book description (which gives away most of the story).

The book begins with a teenage girl, Ndani, traveling from her village to the capital city, Bissau, with hopes of becoming a domestic servant in a Portuguese home. After a few chapters, it skips abruptly to a village chief, smarting over an insult from a colonial official and thinking at great, repetitive length about the paramount importance of thinking. The stories come together when the chief marries Ndani (who has somehow learned to be a great lady by being a housegirl, yet is somehow the only such woman available even though the earlier chapters show that there are plenty of housegirls, and Ndani is not the brightest bulb on the tree). Then she falls in love with a local teacher, a young man trained by priests but questioning the righteousness of colonial rule. Tragedy, naturally, ensues.

The story is kind of a mess, unfortunately. It skips long periods of time without giving any sense of what Ndani’s life was like in the interim, leaving unanswered questions in its wake. Ndani’s abrupt shift from housegirl to fancy lady is not particularly convincing, nor did I find her cheerful willingness to jump right into sex believable from a woman whose only sexual experiences were rape. There’s a prophecy about Ndani that causes people to shun her, until they don’t, with no reason I could see for the change of heart other than that this plot device was no longer needed. Being in the chief’s head is tedious due to the long-winded repetition, and the teacher’s realization that the reality of colonial rule is inconsistent with Christian principles is painfully obvious; decades after colonial rule ended, I doubt this was a new idea to the book’s readers.

The translation is fairly smooth, but a number of words and concepts are left untranslated, and these are not always immediately obvious from context; most of these words appear to be from a local African language and were probably untranslated in the Portuguese original too, but a glossary would help foreign readers understand the references to local culture better.

Ultimately, this is a fairly quick and easy read, but the simplistic political commentary dominates over the story; I missed more of Ndani’s life than I saw, never got to know who she was as a person, and had no particular reason to care about her or anyone else in the story (her mistress was perhaps the most interesting character to me - a Portuguese woman who, after a near-death experience, devotes herself to "improving the natives" - but this character doesn't have the space to fully develop). I wouldn’t recommend this one unless you are specifically looking to read a book from Guinea-Bissau. If you are, this is a readable option.

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review 2018-06-19 01:43
We -- a prototypical dystopian novel
We - Yevgeny Zamyatin,Clarence Brown

D-503, a true believer in the authoritarian future he finds himself in, has his faith in the structures of society shaken by love. <-- a quick and dirty recap of We, D-503's diary.

The world-building in these older dystopias is very different from today's, but you can draw a straight line from We (the first novel banned by Soviet censors in 1921) to a TV show I've only seen advertised in recent years about a dome over civilization, and of course everything in between. (The dome in We is described only as something between their society and what lies outside, and it's there so people aren't soiled by nature, not because people have ruined nature.)

 

D-503 sets out in his diary to show an unknown reader how glorious his mathematically logical "unfreedom" is. How happiness can only be found with the help of state doctrine, one that says freedom will lead to complete havoc and therefore ruin the beautiful order in their society, where even sex is organized by the state - lest the mess of personal, private love ruin everything.

 

It's easy to see how this could be attractive in the abstract, and how absurdly comical it is too. Can a perfect, ordered collective actually make someone happy? Can there be a perfectly ordered collective? The knowing me says of course not, but people always want to order things, to make them less complicated and more logical. Humanity is messy, and D-503 learns this when he falls in unsanctioned lust and love. Love is anarchy, both in the book and when I really think about it (which makes my brain hurt.) Love is the most illogical, but biologically imperative, thing humans do.

 

Zamyatin doesn't rail against the state as much as I expected. Instead he reveals through increasingly confused and unsure diary entries what it means to be an individual, one who exists not just as a cog in a wheel, but one who exists also for his own purposes, with his own ideals.

 

This is a deep work that can be seen on a variety of levels, but I found it most gratifying as a rumination on how complication and chaos are vital to living a full, satisfying life, despite how much we'd all like it to be otherwise with our lists and rules. To truly live, must we allow for some disorder, some illogic, some freedom?

 

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