I'm looking at the books and authors that inspire me as both a writer and a reader. I've chosen eight of my favourite novels and they're presented in no particular order.
"You can't give up on life just because it's vague. It's a question of possibilities...”
Originally published in Japan in 1991, Koji Suzuki's Ring, sparked the beginning of a franchise that spans across six books, a TV series, film adaptations, video games, comics, and a plethora of fan fiction and fan sites. So what's it all about?
Ring's premise is simple and striking - four teenagers mysteriously die on the same night, at the same time, the cause of death recorded as heart failure. All four appear to have died in a state of terror.
Reporter Kazuyuki Asakawa, one of the victim's uncles, decides to investigate. His search leads him to a log cabin rented by the friends a week before their deaths. Staying the night, he discovers a video tape, which depicts a series of surreal and unsettling images. The tape ends with a warning - whoever watches the tape will die in seven days. There is one way to avoid death - the only problem is someone's recorded over the explanation. Oops.
With the clock now ticking Asakawa enlists the help of his friend, Ryūji Takayama. Together, they attempt to unravel the images of the tape. Their search leads them to Sadako Yamamura, an alleged psychic thought to be dead. Believing Sadako to be somehow responsible for the creation of the tape, the two men vow to uncover her whereabouts, leading them to some shocking revelations, and an ending that will blow your socks off. If you've seen any of the film adaptations, you'll know what I'm talking about - although the novel's ending plays out slightly differently.
The beauty of Ring is its simple yet devilish set up: seven days to die, only one way to survive. Immediately you have a sense of urgency and a fantastic mystery that the protagonists have no choice but to solve. And it's an intriguing journey - one that blends the supernatural with Japanese folklore and tradition. What I really love about the story is how it also drops pathology into the mix, using science to identify the video tape as a virus that needs to replicate and multiply in order to infect the world with Sadako's curse. It's a clever analogy, one that works on multiple levels.
Ring is a controversial novel in that one of the lead characters, Ryuji Takayama, openly boasts about raping at least three women. Asakawa struggles with his friendship. On the one hand, he loathes Takayama for his maltreatment of these women (although Asakawa isn't winning any husband-of-the-year awards either), while on the other, he's awed by (and now dependent on) his friend's genius. This struggle brings a unique edge to the novel - how do you empathise with a central character, when he is a self-proclaimed monster? Asakawa wonders if Ryuji's boasts are true, but it's never revealed. So when that infamous scene happens at the end, you can't help but wonder if Ryuji is getting his just deserts.
'Ring' is followed by 'Spiral', with 'Loop' closing the original trilogy. Although its sequels move away from the supernatural thriller genre and into the realms of science fiction, it's well worth spending the time to see how this truly original story plays out.
Ring is available on Amazon.
Have you read Ring or any of its sequels? What do you think of the films? Add your comments below.