4 Horror Books To Read This Halloween

“What do you usually read?” is a question I often get whenever people find out that I like reading. And when I reply that I like horror, there’s always this funny expression on their faces, as if I have just committed social suicide by daring to admit this in public lol.

I mean, I get it. Horror movies and books have always been considered ‘low culture’. They’re popular and they have mass appeal, but they rarely talk about contemporary social problems and issues, and seem to serve little purpose except to entertain. Even if there are moral values, they’re often expressed on an individual level eg how a protagonist beats the odds to outsmart a bloodthirsty killer, or how a priest overcomes his doubt to find faith and strength to banish demons.

But even though many horror titles might not be as ‘groundbreaking’ as books like Uncle Tom’s Cabin or To Kill a Mockingbird, I still feel that horror offers value. Perhaps not in the sense that it highlights social issues to invite discourse and change, but in that it recognizes something primal within ourselves : our sense of self-preservation as a species, and how we cope with ideas and things we cannot fully control or understand. Just as our ancestors used to tell fantastic stories about mythical creatures, demons and things that go bump in the dark as they huddled around campfires or in caves for protection, so do we as modern humans retell these stories and think of our mortality – even when we’re safe and snug in our comfy beds.

But I digress.

Since it’s spook season, I’ve rounded up a list of my favourite horror books to get you into the Halloween mood. Some of these are classics which have been made into films, so you might already have heard of them – but they’re worth reading to see how different they are from the depiction on the silver screen.

It by Stephen King

With King’s novels, I was a late bloomer: I only started reading his books when I was in college and had access to a public library. Which is just as well, because I don’t think a younger me would have been able to deal with the dark themes and mature subject material in many of his books.

My first King book was It, and it remains my favourite to this day, alongside Misery, The Dead Zone and Desperation. As kids, my brother and I had coulrophobia (I still have an irrational fear of clowns actually lol), and the idea of an alien clown that feeds off the flesh of young children and has shapeshifting powers is just … terrifying. That aside, I think It was peak King – it is well written with great pacing, and the villain and characters are well developed. More than just kids banding together to fight an ancient evil, it’s also a brilliant coming-of-age-story and a heartwarming one (when you’re not being scared shitless by Pennywise popping up everywhere) about the power of friendship.

Ring by Koji Suzuki

Here’s an online review which encapsulates how I feel about Ring by Koji Suzuki:

‘one.. you really can’t bear to read and want to lock away and bury away as far as possible, yet at the same time each word is enticing, putting you in a trance, making you read on.’

I have watched the Ring films (both the Japanese and the American versions), and while they’re creepy, they can’t hold a candle to the book. Despite being a grown ass adult when I first read it, I still found it hard to fall asleep as my imagination ran wild with thoughts of Sadako popping up at the foot of my bed, or standing just behind my curtains lol. I did something really childish too: I put the book underneath a pile of books, because I had this silly thought that if I left it on top, the ghost would somehow ‘come to life’ hahahaha. 😛 I guess that’s the mark of a good horror novel… (or maybe I’m just chicken). There’s very little gore or violence in the story, but Suzuki is so adept at playing with the psychological aspect of horror, you can feel the tension and creepiness ooze off the pages like miasma.

The Exorcist by William Peter Blaty

Do you believe in demons? Demons exist in various cultures and faiths because like the concept of yin and yang, where there is good, there will always be evil. The Exorcist is a classic that deals with themes of demonic possession – that of 12-year-old Regan, whose family is dragged into a nightmarish hell as they attempt to rid her of the evil. It is horrifying to read about the abuse that the young girl suffers as the demons torment her. I can’t help but think that it is a literal and figurative representation of the ‘demons’ within humans that drive people to do truly evil things, even without demonic possession. The story has a classic good vs evil plot, and you can’t help but cheer when the big-guns priest – him of the staunch faith and the back-up power of god – comes to smite evil.

The Beaver Book of Horror Stories – edited by Mark Ronson

Image via ebay because I don’t know where I’ve put my copy…

Okay this one is kind of a cheat entry because it isn’t a novel per se, but rather a collection of short stories. I found this gem in a 2nd hand bookstore and even though the cover was super campy, flipping through a couple of pages was enough for me to fork out five bucks. BEST. FIVE. BUCKS. SPENT. EVER.

There are 10 stories within written by different authors, including Mark Ronson himself, and they cover a wide range of horror subgenres including body horror, monsters and the paranormal. Most of the tales are from 19th century authors, which lends them a gothic quality. Some of my favourites are Pickman’s Model by HP Lovecraft, which talks about an artist whose monstrous paintings are so brilliant and terrifying one wonders where the inspiration comes from – and The Seed from the Sepulchre by Clark Ashton Smith, where explorers discover an ancient man-eating plant after stumbling upon some ruins in the jungle.

And there you have it! If you’re new to horror, these are my recommendations – but the world of horror fiction is a vast one, and there are still plenty of terrifying stories to unearth.

What are some of your favourite horror titles? Share them with me so I can look out for them.

Happy Halloween!

Book Review: Salem’s Lot by Stephen King

Hey guys!

Been a minute since my last post – been busy with life and stuff.

I recently went for a close friend’s traditional wedding ceremony, and it was not only great fun but also an eye-opening experience. I realised that I know so little of my own culture lol.

I was also in SG a couple of days ago for a work meeting with the SG team – there are major changes coming and I’m not sure how I’ll cope, but the only way is to soldier on I suppose. I’m not going to kill myself over it because my anxiety charts are off the roof lately.

I’ve also been working on some part time projects; these will come in handy if my (day)job suddenly goes tits up – so even though they’re eating into my time at the moment, I’m trying to keep them going.

I also found some time to finish Salem’s Lot (finally!). Trying something different this year in that I want to upload more videos, so here goes the review. I still don’t like appearing on camera, so for now voice will do:

If you don’t like my nasally drone-y voice (ha)!, here’s a summary –

Fans of horror should definitely read Salem’s Lot, one of King’s earlier novels (I like to call it his ‘Renaissance’ period). The horror titles he produced between the 1970s – 1990s are some of my favourites, the likes of Carrie, Cujo, Pet Sematary, The Running Man, It, The Shining and The Stand. To put it simply, Salem’s Lot is about vampires – the kind that rips your throat out and sucks you dry, not the sparkly lovestruck kind.

The horror in Salem’s Lot is less about what people do to others, but goes back to a more primeval fear, of evil personified as monsters lurking in the dark. It’s the fear you get while entering a damp and dark labyrinth full of unknown creatures, rather than the fear of walking home at midnight looking out for muggers. (does that make sense?) The characters are well developed with good story arcs, and you can’t help but root for them to overcome dangers thrown their way. The climax of the novel is a bit of a letdown, however, and I feel that it lacks that oomph in its resolution. Still, I think it’s a great horror novel and a great introduction to King if you are not yet familiar with his work.

Fun fact: Stephen King has had 83 novels published. Which one is your favourite?

 

Feel the Fear @ Nights of Fright 5, Sunway Lagoon – Malaysia’s Largest Festival of Fear

It’s night.

You’re in a theme park after hours.

A mist swirls around your feet, curling and uncurling like fingers. An eerie laugh cuts through the night air, sending chills down your spine. You round the corner and you meet..

A whole lot of nope.

As Jigsaw peddles towards you, you take a few steps back, turn, and run the other way, towards the exit. But as you approach the gates, you meet a figure. He closes in and… !

You let out a scream… but realise you’re not in a horror movie after all and you’re not doomed to some gory, impending death.

After all, it’s only Nights of Fright 5, Malaysia’s largest festival of fear – returning this Halloween to Sunway Lagoon to scare the living daylights out of patrons. 😀

Held throughout the month of October, the theme park comes to life (lol) after dark with various denizens of death: ghoulies and ghosties from both East and West. The gates of horror opened last weekend, and will remain open until the 31st. And they’ve got some pretty scary things in store for the brave (?) soul who dares to venture in.

Occult fans will know of Mexico’s infamous Isla de la Munecas, or Island of the Dolls – said to be haunted by restless spirits who make the hundreds, if not thousands, of dolls on the swampy island their home. Described as one of the ‘creepiest places on earth’, the bizarre collection began when the island’s owner, Don Julian, began collecting dolls to appease a little girl’s spirit who apparently drowned in the area. He was found drowned himself, 50 years later, in the very spot where the body was supposed to be found.

Well, you don’t have to travel all the way to Mexico to experience it, because Sunway Lagoon is bringing the island right to our doorstep, along with its residents.

If dolls aren’t your thing, then maybe a nice quiet seance and Ouija board game with the folks over at the abandoned attic of Mr E J Bond Esquire’s home.

Walk the tightrope between life and death at Day of the Dead in 3D, as you make your way through the darkness, illuminated by the occasional eerie glow from masked souls. Be careful though – you never know when they might want some company in the realm of the dead.

Fast forward to the year 2147, to a world of Dystopia: overrun with squalor, human misery, oppression, disease and overcrowding. The hospital plays host to crazy doctors performing grisly human experiments, while monstrosities and ghosts of the past haunt its hallways.

They even got Silent Hill to loan them some nurses.

Lol kidding.

If you’re up to some badassery, explore the iconic Ghostbusters Firehouse HQ and kick some ghost ass. Not literally of course. Touch not the ‘ghosts’ and they won’t touch you. Other infamous ghost locations include the Aldridge Mansion and Seward Street Subway, recreated to a tee.

Some local flavour is in order, and they have the Pontianak vs Pocong, a bloody affair of a lover returning as a Pontianak (vampire) and an unfaithful husband as a Pocong (a Malay version of a zombie) – seeking what is rightfully theirs in a classic battle of evil vs evil (this was the movie they should have made instead of Sadako vs Kayako!)

Fangirl to your favourite horror movie characters of all time (just don’t ask for an autograph) at Horrorwood Studios, where you’ll meet iconic greats like Freddy from a Nightmare on Elm Street, and Michael Myers from Halloween. They’ll even walk you down the red carpet, complete with large Oscar statues, velvet rope barriers and lights over at the Horrorwood Boulevard! 

And of course, it wouldn’t be a screamfest/fear festival without the perennial favourite – zombies. Survive the Zombie Apocalypse maze where the undead are always on the ready to tear you apart and drag you down.

Aside from the above mentioned places, there will be a total of 8 Haunted Houses5 Scare Zones11 Thrill Rides and 4 Show Stages, including attractions such as the Forest of Fear and Judgment Lane (modeled after the demolished Pudu Jail). Join the parade at March of the Undead, where characters walk about in haunting yet beautiful makeup and costumes, decorated with Mexican paper flags and large puppet processions.

Nights of Fright 5, presented by Sunway Lagoon Theme Park, runs from Fridays til Sundays until Oct 31. Doors open at 730PM til late and entrance is strictly for those aged 12 years old and above. Tickets are priced at RM64 per pax.

For more details, visit: NOF5. 

Dare you?

Read last year’s experience here: Nights of Fright 4 

Movie Review – Resident Evil: The Final Chapter

Has it really been 15 years since the first Resident Evil movie? I’m convinced Milla Jovovich is a vampire, she never seems to age. 😀 While I’m not a big fan of the series, I have watched all the films online. So when I heard that the ‘final’ instalment of the series was out, I thought it fitting to go and catch it at the cinema.

Synopsis: 

The film kicks off with an origin story, of how the T-Virus came to be. Dr James Marcus, the original founder of Umbrella Corp, had a daughter who was dying of premature aging. To save her, he developed the virus to cure all diseases on Earth. Initially it seemed to work, but the side effects were soon apparent, turning people into zombies. Marcus’ business partner Dr Isaacs wanted to use it as a military weapon, but when Marcus refuses, the Dr murders him.

Fast forward to the future, Alice (Jovovich) emerges as the only survivor at humanity’s last stand at the now-ruined White House. Searching for survivors, the Red Queen (computer from the Hive, Umbrella’s headquarters) appears and tells Alice to return there because Umbrella Corp has developed an airborne antivirus which will kill all organisms infected by the T-Virus before wiping out the rest of humanity.

Alice races against time to get there, but is captured by Dr Isaacs. She escapes and bands with a group of survivors, including Claire Redfield, to get to the Hive. On the way there are various obstacles to get through, including mutated dogs, monsters and more zombies, as well as the pursuing Dr Isaacs. Upon their arrival, the Red Queen tells them that there is an antivirus, and reveals the reason she is helping them is to put a stop to Umbrella’s plans which was all along to wipe out humanity with an apocalypse while their top employees remain frozen in the facility, and emerge in a ‘cleansed’ world which they could rebuild in their image. It’s up to Alice and her pals to put a stop to Umbrella’s evil plans and end the virus once and for all.

Verdict

I was pleasantly surprised to find that The Final Chapter was a decent wrap-up, tying up some loose knots and ends of the story whilst delivering lots of action, guns and zombies. If you’re not familiar with the RE-universe, though, it can still be enjoyed as a regular action film. There are somethings that are overly cliche: too many jumpscares, for instance, and the usual ‘who dies next in Alice’s group’ plot, but the action sequences are well executed and there is some semblance of story. Still can’t live up to my favourite, the first RE, but it’s not a complete bomb. Fitting end to a franchise that hasn’t always been the best in terms of storytelling/logic, but still raked in lots of moolah all the same.

Score: 6/10 

 

Book Review: World War Z – An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks

Ah, film adaptations from novels. Sometimes I’m guilty of watching them before buying the books. Case in point: Lord of the Rings (which turned out to be my favourite book series of all time), the Shawshank Redemption and The Hunger Games. World War Z is another such example. After seeing Brad Pitt in action – escaping zombies in downtown New York, cutting an Israeli soldier’s hand off to prevent infection, dodging Zs on a plane – it was hard to resist grabbing a copy when I saw it on sale at a bookstore. The official title is World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War, but I guess that would be a mouthful for movie audiences, hence the shortened version lol.

Note: There is little to nothing in common between the book and the film, other than the fact that they’re both about a zombie apocalypse.

Fun fact: The original script that got greenlighted for production was closer to the novel, but they scrapped it in favour of a more action-oriented one.

Synopsis:

The story is told through a series of interviews by the narrator, who is not named – but we know that he is an agent of the United Nations Postwar Commission and that the war with zombies is already over. The timeline traces back to Patient Zero in China, where the outbreak is said to have originated. The Chinese government begins to take measures to cover up the disease, but it still manages to spread through human trafficking, refugees and the black market organ trade – until a large scale outbreak in South Africa brings the plague to public attention.

The story then chronicles how different countries/organizations handle the crisis as they struggle not just to to contain and combat the infection, but also desperate human beings reacting to desperate times. Israel, for example, closes down its borders, but has to deal with an ultra-Orthodox uprising which leads to a civil war. Driven by opportunistic greed, some companies begin marketing placebo vaccines – with the government happily lying to the people in order to create some sense of national stability.

A period called the ‘Great Panic’ ensues, in which Pakistan and Iran destroy each other in a nuclear war, and zombies overrun New York City. The US military takes a stand at the Battle of Yonkers, but suffers a devastating defeat after realizing that their modern weapons and tactics are ineffective against zombies. Mankind was on the brink of destruction.

Finally, in South Africa, the government adopts the Redeker Plan, which establishes small sanctuaries of people with a high chance of surviving, whilst leaving the remaining groups of survivors abandoned in special zones to distract the undead. Horrible as it sounds, the plan works and other governments start implementing the same policy.

It’s not only the governments that are interviewed, as the narrator speaks to everyday people to get an insight into how life was like for them during the War. Readers are introduced to a young girl who fled with her family to the cold wastes of the US’s North(since zombies freeze in the cold) and when the food ran out, people resorted to cannibalism… including her own parents.

Three astronauts left on the International Space Station during the War describe how they observed mega swarms of zombies on the American Great Plains and Central Asia, and how it affected the Earth’s atmosphere, while a renegade Chinese submarine abandons the country and

The story shifts to how mankind slowly rebuilds some semblance of civilization. Rationing, reorganization and food cultivation become the new main pillars of society, as people with practical skills such as carpentry and construction are prized over pre-war, desk-bound jobs. Governments are also slowly taking back infected areas, as they are now better equipped, having learnt from previous fights on how to deal with zombies. Basic but effective weapons and trained dogs are just among some of their arsenal, but the story also describes how they had to deal with armed groups of rebels and hostile survivors.

The political landscape of countries have changed. Cuba becomes the world’s most thriving economy, China is now a democracy, Russia turns back to religious theocracy, and Palestine and Israel are finally at peace. While the threat is far from over, as millions of zombies are still active around the planet including in the depths of the ocean, the book ends on a hopeful note that slowly but surely, the world starts over from where it began.

world_war_z_max_brooks

Verdict

I haven’t come across many novels that tell the story ‘backwards’ – that’s to say, you already know what has happened and the rest of the book just recounts events leading up to that conclusion (or in this case, the introduction). The only other one I know of is The Lovely Bones, which, although a favourite of many, did not make my ‘good book’ list.

With WWZ, however, this format makes for a very refreshing read. “How exciting can it be? Stuff has already happened, it’s more like a summary,” you might say, but I beg to differ. Brooks is a master of his craft: the story is objective and reads like a report, but injected with enough suspense and human elements to leave readers wondering what happens ‘next’. He also divides it into short sections (just like how you’d read a magazine/newspaper interview) and this technique keeps the reader spellbound and interested, as opposed to one long, draggy narrative.

Some of the recurring themes are that of survival and humanity. The undead is a constant threat, but ultimately, the heart of the novel lies in the interactions and decisions made by human beings in their fight to survive. There are shining examples of bravery, compassion and kindness, and equally horrific examples of callousness, ignorance, cruelty, and the dark side of human nature.

Brooks throws many uncomfortable moral scenarios which forces the readers to question themselves on what they would do in a character’s’ shoes.

Take, for example, the girl who escaped to the cold reaches of North America with her parents, where she witnesses a cheerful, helpful community turn on each other when food runs out. When the character falls sick and there is no food, she is delighted to be served hot meat broth – only to find out later that her parents had traded something of value for human meat, so that she wouldn’t die.

The Redeker plan, implemented by the S/A government, puts those with a high chance of survival above those with a slimmer chance, using the latter as zombie cannon fodder. In an ideal world, everyone can be saved, but Brooks forces the reader to consider what we would do to ensure our survival as a species.

The frightening thing about WWZ? It reads as ‘fiction’, but the scenarios it presents are very real. Not in the sense that the dead are rising up anytime soon, but our responses to threats – both on a larger scale as well as a personal one. It is a well written commentary on social and political issues, class, race, the psyche, and our instinct to survive no matter the cost. While most zombie apocalypse novels will have you on the edge of your seat wondering what happens to the protagonist, World War Z will keep you up well into the night, reflecting on our humanity. And that, to me, is the mark of a great novel.
Rating: 10/10

Book Review – Under the Dome by Stephen King

At a whopping 1100+ pages, Under the Dome by Stephen King is gargantuan.  It’s so lengthy they even divided it into Parts I and II.

I finished it within a week. It has been a long time since I read anything that fast – mainly coz with so many things to do these days, I get easily distracted. That’s the thing about King novels though: it’s hard to put down once you pick them up, coz you’re constantly wondering and anticipating what comes next.

Under_the_Dome_Final

Synopsis: 

A mysterious barrier/dome has descended upon a small Maine town called Chester’s Mill, trapping its inhabitants within.

Things get chaotic. The town’s chief of police, Duke Perkins, approaches the dome, causing his pacemaker to explode. With his death, most of the power goes to Second Selectman ‘Big’ Jim Rennie, an egomaniac who, unbeknownst to many townspeople, runs a drug lab in the outskirts of town. He proceeds to sow fear in order to keep his hold on the town and hide his secrets, using any means necessary…even murder.

He orchestrates a food riot which he uses as an excuse to double the new police force, a dangerously trigger-happy group of his son’s Junior’s friends. He murders the local reverend who was in the drug operation and was on the verge of spilling the beans, as well as Perkins’ wife who had found evidence that her husband was investigating Rennie. To make matters worse, we discover that the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree as Junior  himself has murdered two friends in a fit of rage… and that he’s also suffering from a brain tumour that causes violent behaviour.

Trapped along with everyone else is former army lieutenant turned short order cook, Barbara ‘Barbie’. Because the army plans to establish him as their inside man, Rennie frames Barbie for the murders and throws him into jail. He makes Barbie into a ‘boogeyman’, blaming him not just for the murders but for everything else – the drug lab, the food riot, etc, further sowing fear among the population so that they are too scared to think straight. Looting, shootings and chaos ensues.

A small group of people are not buying Rennie’s lies, and are trying to expose him and break Barbie out of jail before Rennie can conduct a public execution. They include the town’s physician assistant and his wife, Rusty and Linda, the local journalist Julia, kids Joe, Benny and Norrie (there are always kids in King’s novels: the kind that are smart, resourceful and often overlooked by the adults to their advantage), Reverend Piper Libby and grocery store owner Ed Calvert.

Time is running out, and the survivors struggle in a race against time to figure out the cause behind the dome before supplies run out, and stop Big Jim Rennie from destroying what’s left of town… and them.

Verdict: 

Under The Dome is not King’s best novel, but I think readers are willing to overlook that, simply because it’s King. It has his signature heart-pumping, fast-paced action that gets the reader on the edge of their seat.

While it’s a standard apocalpyse story formula, King has done well by focusing on the human relationships in the story, their behaviour, and how far people will go in order to survive.

There are many characters in the novel. While some are developed well, some seem to have fallen short of fleshing out before they die. Andrea Grinnel, the Third Selectman, for instance. She was a very promising character – being next in line behind Jim Rennie, Grinnel was a drug addict due to a back injury, but had risen from her depression and gotten her hands on documents incriminating Rennie which she planned to expose during the townhall meeting. But alas, before she could  do anything, she was killed, and had not even passed the documents to anyone – thus destroying the evidence forever and allowing Rennie to lead the rest of Chester’s Mill to their doom.

Big Jim Rennie is one of the most unpleasant villains I’ve ever come across – simply because I recognize such characters in the working world and I can imagine how easy it is for people to turn that way in an extreme situation.

There are, however, major plot holes which I didn’t really fancy. How the dome came about, for instance –  and the survivors’ last pitch effort to disable it. It just didn’t seem believable, despite this being a sci-fi/thriller novel where everything is possible.

Overall, Under the Dome is a moderately good Stephen King read, with just the right amount of action and story to keep you turning the pages.

Score: 6.5/10 

 

 

 

Book Review – Spiral by Koji Suzuki

Spiral

Remember that creepy chick who crawled out of the well, through the TV set and straight into our nightmares? The Ring wreaked havoc on an entire generation in the 1990s – kids (or at least, me) were afraid to turn on their TV sets in fear that the long haired woman with extremely clean clothes (I wonder what cleaning agent she uses?)would appear and lead them to die a horrible death. The movie ushered in a whole generation of Japanese horror that was creepy and brilliant, relying more on psychological horror and fear of the unknown over jumpscares, busty blondes being stabbed, and gore.

But before the film, there was… the book. Ring was the first of a series of novels by Koji Suzuki, where Sadako(aforementioned creepy chick) curses anyone who watches her videotape, dooming them to die horribly a week after. 

I read the first book a couple of years back, and it was scary – way scarier than the movie, I must say. It was a great piece of horror, praised as ‘combining Haruki Murakami with Stephen King’. You can read my read my review here

In Ring, journalist Kazuyuki Asakawa investigates a series of mysterious deaths where the victims appeared to have died from no apparent cause at the same time. This leads him to a videotape containing weird footage, which claims that he will die within 7 days if he doesn’t follow instructions at the end of the tape – but it has been erased as a joke by the earlier victims. Racing against time, he enlists help from his friend Ryuji Takayama to unravel the curse. They discover that the footage was imprinted by psychic Sadako Yamamura, whose hatred from being raped and murdered was channeled into the tape. Towards the end of the novel, it seems that the pair have unraveled the mystery, followed Sadako’s wishes and laid her body (which was thrown into a well) to rest.

The last few pages show that this was not the case at all. Ryuji dies, while Asakawa lives. Realising that the key to unravel the curse is to make a copy of the tape, Asakawa races to show two other people the cursed tape in order to save his wife and child, both of whom had watched the tape out of curiousity. The novel ends….

I recently got the second book in the series, Spiral, which picks up where the first left off. Can it live up to the first ? 

Synopsis: 

Coroner Ando Mitsuo is struggling to lead a normal life after the death of his son by drowning and divorce from his wife. It is then that the body of his ex classmate Ryuji is discovered, dead from mysterious circumstances. Ando and his colleague Miyashita discover a tumour as the cause of death, with symptoms similar to smallpox (now extinct). During the autopsy, a piece of newspaper comes out of the suture, with numbers on it. Curious, Ando deciphers them and discover the code ‘Ring’. This leads him to Ryuji’s former assistant and lover, Mai Takano. In search for answers, the two strike up a friendship.

Unbeknownst to Ando, Mai watches the copy of the tape left at Ryuji’s home and is infected with the Ring virus. She then disappears. Unable to find her, Ando continues digging deeper into the mystery, and discovers a copy of The Ring, written by Asakawa as a report, which details the entire incidence. He discovers that Asakawa, while not dead, has become catatonic after a car crash, where his wife and daughter are found dead from the curse despite him copying the tapes and showing them to someone else.

Too late, he discovers that the curse has mutated from video tape into Asakawa’s report, and that he has been infected with the curse after reading it. During this mutation, the characteristics of the curse changed, which meant that he did not die within the week. But the virus and Sadako has other plans – not just for Asakawa, but for the entire human race which might lead it to its extinction. Worst still, the report will be published as a novel and made into film and adapted to various media, which makes it virtally unstoppable…

Verdict: 

Spiral starts off differently from Ring. In the first novel, fear radiated off the first few pages instantly as we witness the last moments of one of Sadako’s victims, before we are gradually eased into the story.

Spiral, on the other hand, starts off with Ando, giving us a background of his broken personal life, and his gradual ‘spiral’ into the mystery – first as an observer and later his increasing involvement which endangers his life. However, it builds tension brilliantly, as the reader flips page after page wondering what comes next. Is Mai alive? What is the true nature of Sadako’s mutated curse? The novel plays on psychological fears with simple but effective prose : I felt my hairs standing on end while reading some parts in a quiet room alone at night.

A main characteristic shared by the protagonists in both novels is curiosity. Just like Pandora, Asakawa and Ando can’t help but search for answers until the bitter end. And like the ‘heroes’ in our story, the curious reader has to finish the novel in spite of ourselves.

Rating: 7.5/10

 

 

 

 

Book Review – Doctor Sleep

 

THE power to read minds, teleport objects and delve into another person’s deepest, darkest secrets. Would you call that a blessing, or a curse?

If you’ve read Stephen King’s 1977 novel The Shining, you would know that sometimes, it can be the latter. One of King’s brilliant early novels, the premise of psychic powers was made famous by a movie of the same name starring a young Jack Nicholson (remember that deranged ‘Here’s Johnny!’ scene?). A child Dan Torrance and his family moves into the haunted Overlook Hotel, where his ‘shining’ powers amplify the hotel’s malevolent forces and he starts seeing monsters and ghostly apparitions which attempt to hurt the family. As the novel progresses, his father spirals deeper and deeper into madness – culminating in an ultimate showdown whereby Dan, his mother Wendy and an old hotel cook who also has the shining, Dick, escape before the place explodes from an overheating boiler.

So what happened to little Daniel Torrance? 36 years later, King finally wrote a sequel – putting fans back on the edge of their seats with Doctor Sleep.

drsleep

Synopsis: 

The intro chapter reveals a little on young Dan Torrance and the life he has to go through with his now single mom, since the Overlook incident. The old shining cook, Dick, makes a cameo as well. He teaches Dan how to lock away the horrible ‘ghosts’ that seemed to have followed Dan around, in his mind.

Fast forward and Dan has grown up to be a troubled young man. Drifting from town to town and taking up odd jobs, his past with the Overlook haunts him, and he resorts to drinking to drown out the shining. When he comes to the sleepy town of Frazier, something in the place makes him stay and he decides to give up on drinking for good. Landing a job as a hospice aide, he now uses his shining abilities to help patients pass on, hence the nickname ‘Doctor Sleep’.

Meanwhile, a baby girl called Abra is born and she has the most powerful shining ever seen – even more than Dan’s was when he was younger. As she grows older, she reaches out to others like her, forming a telepathic bond with Dan.

The reader is then introduced to the True Knot, a group of immortals very much like vampires – except that they feed on the ‘steam’ from psychic kids like Abra instead of blood, which they get through kidnapping and torture of their victims. When Abra inadvertently tunes into one of their murder/torture sessions, she is discovered – and now the True Knot wants her. Fearing for her life, Abra reaches out to Dan. They must now find a way to stop the True Knot once and for all. It’s not going to be easy, because to do that, Dan has to face his inner demons and ghosts from his Overlook past…

 

Verdict: 

I’ll be honest. As much as I love Stephen King, some of his recent novels haven’t been as great as his early work. I remember reading books like Pet Sematary, It, Misery and just shuddering at the horror of them – which is just as well, coming from the Master of Horror. His newer titles have been slightly more… suspenseful, but lacking the chill factor. It was refreshing to see that King has gone back to his roots of what made him a truly talented supernatural fiction author. Doctor Sleep manages to build up the suspense + a feeling of fear for the main characters and the hurdles they have to face.

The people in the novel fit into their roles perfectly – Abra as a headstrong girl with powerful shining and a righteous, bloodthirsty streak), Dan who has grown from alcoholic to wise mentor, the True Knot, led by Rose the Hat, who relish the steam they get from suffering and have been feeding off it for centuries – powerful but unaccustomed to resistance from their victims. I actually felt slightly sorry for the antagonists here – King makes it that although we know they are evil, we can’t help feeling sympathy with their way of life and how, to them, it is just a matter of surviving.

All in all, Doctor Sleep was one of those novels that had me reading into the wee hours of the morning, and a satisfying sequel to The Shining. For fans of King’s earlier novels, this is one that you should try for a hit of nostalgia.

 

8/10.