Followers of Japanese horror, aka J-Horror, in both literary and film media are well-versed in the genre trope more-or-less made famous by Koji Suzuki’s novel, The Ring. Many sequels, spin-offs, and copycats have been generated in both Japan and the US. The ghostly, and deadly Samara, with her long, black hair and dirty white nightgown, has become a horror icon. Similarly, the Japanese manga created by Tsugumi Ohba, Death Note, has spawned an anime TV series, two live-action films to date, and numerous imitators. It’s therefore forgivable to brush off Rin Chupeco’s 2014 debut novel, The Girl from the Well, as just another in a long line of followers seeking to cash in on the popularity of the above-mentioned classics. But that would be an error in judgment.
Make no mistake – there is definitely a strong resonance to both benchmark creations. However, Chupeco offers a fresh interpretation that incorporates revenge from the grave, spiritual possession, and cultural history into the lives of a very well-drawn set of characters. The result is a story that is absolutely chilling in some scenes, very violent in others, but always stressing the loneliness and isolation of the outsider along with deep, familial love.
Okiku, the girl from the well, was murdered 300 years ago. She is the most dangerous and horrific of ghosts: the mobile one, capable of moving across the world, reaching into our reality to exact a specific form of revenge associated with her death. She manifests in hideous ways – hanging from the ceiling, standing silently in a corner – and some special people, mainly children and young adults, can see her. One special child is fifteen-year-old Tarquin, covered in tattoos from his institutionalized Japanese mother at a very early age, and subject to attempted control by a very evil spirit. Tarquin, along with his older cousin, Callie, make the acquaintance of Okiku when Tarquin is abducted by a murderous pedophile. To say more would spoil the many genre pleasures found in this book.
The novel is not perfect by any means. The pace of the story is uneven, beginning fast and furiously, then slowing down through a process of info dump through lengthy dialog in the final third, before erupting once again in a nicely-realized and vicious battle. The story seems written for an eventual film franchise, with a sequel, The Suffering, released in August of this year. Regardless of motivation, the author’s prose is assured, precise and quite descriptive. Characterizations, including Okiku, are well-structured. While the book appears to be targeted for the YA market, it is a treat for adults as well. Emulation of classic tropes doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Rate it four out of five stars. Chupeco is an author to watch.