This review originally appeared in The Third Alternative #41:-
DARK WATER by KOJI SUZUKI
Vertical hb, 281pp, $21.95 www.vertical-inc.com
Suzuki is being hailed as Japan’s answer to Stephen King, but here in the west he is best known for the novel upon which classic Horror film Ring was based. This collection of seven stories, constructed around the idea of an elderly woman who tells her granddaughter stories inspired by the objects they find washed up on the beach and with the stories linked by water, is named after another film made from his work.
Opening story ‘Floating Water’ is a fine example of Suzuki’s talent and probably the best of what’s on offer here. When a woman and her daughter move into an apartment block the girl makes an invisible friend, but as her mother explores the history of the building and learns of the tragedy that took place there several years before events take a more sinister turn. This is a classic ghost story in the mould of M R James, playing out in a modern urban landscape and, while the resolution is telegraphed, Suzuki doesn’t put a foot wrong in telling, with all the clues deftly inserted and a growing sense of menace that holds the reader’s attention. ‘Solitary Isle’ has a more modern feel to it, as a man gets the chance to visit Battery No.6, an abandoned military post in the middle of Tokyo harbour, and discover for himself the truth of a tale told him long ago by a now dead friend. The story cleverly blends the past with the present and offers ambiguity in its resolution, with hints of both terrible abuse and heavenly transformation, leaving the reader to decide which scenario holds more water. ‘The Hold’ while still very well written is a bit more routine, the story of a man who cannot remember what has happened to his missing wife, followed by her revenge from beyond the grave, the grotesqueness of the closing scenes not really overcoming the burden of a plot most will have seen many times before.
‘Dream Cruise’ is almost surreal in the menace it presents to the reader as a yacht cruising in peaceful waters encounters an inexplicable obstruction, with the story’s strength lying in the antagonism between the three people on board the yacht and dialogue packed with subtle hints of greed for material things and a terrible price that has to be paid. Another strong story, this time with echoes of Hodgson, ‘Adrift’ begins with the discovery of an abandoned luxury yacht at sea and ends with the fate of the sailor who volunteers to pilot the vessel, learning to his cost what happened to the original crew. The atmosphere and sheer emptiness of the sea, its indifference to those who float upon its surface, is powerfully conveyed in this story, with the traditions and superstitious nature of sailors put to deft use in fleshing out the tale’s backdrop. ‘Watercolors’ is an ambitious piece, a story that takes risks, with sudden shifts of perspective. A theatrical performance in a former nightclub that was the scene of a terrible fire is threatened by an eruption of supernatural manifestations, but these are cleverly incorporated into the play itself so the reader is cast adrift, not knowing where theatre ends and terror begins. Lastly there’s ‘Forest under the Sea’ in which two men become trapped on a potholing expedition, cataloguing the efforts of one of them to get a message to his young son and then moving forward twenty years to show the son himself visiting the site where his father died so tragically. While containing no real surprises, this is an absorbing story of hope crushed and human perseverance against all the odds, its underground setting strongly realised. In an epilogue to the collection, the grandmother tells of how she found and delivered this father’s message in a bottle, perfectly rounding out an excellent collection from a writer whose work I look forward to seeing much more of.