Filler content going round in rings

This review originally appeared in The Third Alternative #41:-

SPIRAL by KOJI SUZUKI
Vertical hb, 281pp, $24.95                                                               http://www.vertical-inc.com

The central character in this sequel to the acclaimed Ring is Ando, a forensic scientist whose marriage has broken up after the death by drowning of his son, an accident for which he still holds himself responsible. Ando is asked to perform the autopsy on Ryuji, a brilliant philosopher with whom he went to university, who has died in mysterious circumstances. His findings make little sense and the issue becomes even more clouded as the results of various tests conducted on tissue samples taken from the body arrive. Mai, one of Ryuji’s students, tells Ando that a journalist called at the philosopher’s apartment to enquire about the whereabouts of a certain video tape, and from following up this lead he becomes acquainted with the story of murdered Sadako and the video to which she gave life, a tape that causes the death of anyone who watches it. Sceptical at first Ando is convinced as the evidence mounts, but a new and even more terrifying possibility takes shape as hospitals around Tokyo report deaths similar to that of Ryuji, but with no known link to the lethal video. The ring virus is evolving into new forms and may well be unstoppable.

This is an impressive novel, with a plot borrowed from the great body of supernatural fiction but told from a scientific viewpoint in a story where gene sequencing and DNA, cryptography and forensic medicine all have a vital part to play, so that what we get reads like a cross between M R James and Michael Crichton. Spiral is cleverly constructed, with each part slotting neatly into the whole and compelling the necessary suspension of disbelief as the reader is drawn along, every bit as credulous as poor Ando but forced to accept the evidence as it piles up, each step in the drama taken with a flawless logic at its back. Suzuki’s quiet and effective prose is perfect for what is being related, the very ordinariness of much that takes place only serving the better to emphasise the horror and unnaturalness when it occurs. So much of the plot is character driven, with Ando the consummate professional, but also a deeply troubled individual, one for whom the sins of the past recur in the present, which is perhaps a leitmotif of the book as, for all that what she does is horrific, Sadako herself is almost a sympathetic character, so that it’s impossible for the reader not to feel some identification with the terrible fate she suffered, raped and imprisoned in a well, and to almost applaud her will to grasp a second chance at life. The secondary characters are every bit as rounded, especially the young Mai, impressionable and in love with Ryuji, and Ando’s best friend Miyashita, his faithful companion on this voyage of discovery.

Spiral transcends its distinguished predecessor in so many ways, with enough shocks to please the most jaded Horror aficionado and a sense of wonder to refute those who believe shocks is all the genre has to offer. As the story draws to its conclusion Suzuki introduces an element of the metafictional, with the publication and success of Ring becoming a vital ingredient of the plot, a step that is both logical and unnerving for the reader. In the final pages Spiral addresses the vital questions with which the Horror genre more than any other is qualified to deal, asking what we as individuals are capable of and pondering what the future holds for us as a species, embracing a fatalism that borders on the profound and hinting at even more revelations to come in the final volume of the trilogy, Loop.

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