As summer winds down, so does this season’s theme; this blog will no longer be “subletting” haunted apartments. For the time being, you’ll just have to go directly to the story creators in order to vicariously reside inside their suites of terror. But don’t be so down in the mouth; I still have one more apartment complex for you to check out! Are you feeling adventurous? I hope so, for we are going to the other side of the world. Off to Japan we go, into a suburb of Tokyo. (For those Blog readers already residing in Japan, look on the bright side – travel expenses will be minimal!) We will also travel through time back to the 1980s and visit an apartment building that is situated beside a cemetery. Get ready readers as I review Japanese author Mariko Koike’s book, The Graveyard Apartment: A Novel , which was first published in 1986 under the title Bochi o miorosu ie. Translated by Deborah Boliver Boehm in 2016, the book has been available in English for two years now. Please take advantage of this English translation, folks. It’s a delightfully creepy story and I am grateful that it is being shared with the larger world.
After a summer that was very much immersed in the psychological horror from Roman Polanski , we turn now to an apartment complex that is haunted by good ol’ fashioned sprints. Don’t get me wrong – I loved Polanski’s Apartment Trilogy, (read about them here, here, and here), but it is time to move on to other things, malicious things! These malicious spirits that haunt Koike’s apartment complex are of mysterious origin and consistency. But these forces are very powerful; they have the ability to strike a person dead from afar! I won’t compare these supernatural forces of to the demonic entities that roam about in the apartments of Jeffery Konvitz’s novels. Apples and oranges, my friends. The Konvitz novels (The Sentinel and The Guardian ) succeed as mystery thrillers, thick with plot and doused in conspiracy. Koike gives readers a more visceral kind of scare. She writes about the things that make a trip down into a basement a terrifying experience. I refer to the shared basement in that exists in the story’s apartment complex – the storage center. . Down there the air currents are possessed. Down below there are hidden tunnels. From deep within their cavernous mouths, taunting voices call out to tenants that happen to be in the basement, beckoning them inside. Beware of the elevator that takes you down there! It often loses operational control to the things that haunt this complex! But the basement isn’t the only place in the facility plagued with supernatural terror. Sometimes ghostly hands press against the lobby windows. Oh my!
Here be the stuff of plot! We have the Kano family; Teppei the father, Misao the mother, and Tamao is their young daughter. This family moves to the Central Plaza Mansion, an apartment complex in the suburbs of Tokyo. It also happens to be located beside a cemetery (that never a good thing in a horror novel!) The deceased family pet, a bird named Pyoko, visits young Tamao in the night and warns the little girl about the dangers lurking in the new place. She tells her parents about these nocturnal visits, but they attribute them to their daughter’s overactive imagination.
Throughout their stay at Central Plaza Mansion, they meet several neighbors. They all seem normal, but by the book’s end, they will all move away. These neighbors sense a certain “strangeness” about the apartment complex that that the Kano family is aware of but chooses to ignore. Misao does some research about the property and the surrounding land, only to discover the forestalled plans of an underground mall. Deep beneath them, the tunnels for this venture had already been carved. Why did the project stop? Did all this digging disturb the spirits in the cemetery on the adjoining land? If so, are these spirits still stirring and are they pissed at any modern developments that have encroached on their sacred land, developments such as The Central Plaza Mansion?
Finally, the Kano’s decide to leave. Teppei’s brother and his wife come to help them move. But is it too late? In the forward to Robert Morasco’s book Burnt Offerings , Author Stephen Graham Jones distinguishes between two types of haunted houses: those that want the living to stay away, and those that want to devour the living. The Amityville Horror house represents the first type, while the house in Burnt Offerings House represents the latter. The complex in The Graveyard Apartment seems to be somewhat of a hybrid. Yes it wants to devour its inhabitants, but it first gives them a chance to leave. As the old expression says, “you snooze, you lose.” The Kano’s are snoozers. Uh oh!
The Graveyard Apartment: A Novel rates at about 3.6 out of 5 stars on Amazon.com, which is the average from over fifty reviews. Some loved it, some hated it, and some thought it was just “so-so”. As for me, I would say I “near-loved” it. Some of the complaints have to do with the side-stories that don’t always seem to go anywhere. I admit, dialogue gets bogged down in places. There are too many exchanges that have little relevancy to the overall story. Back when I was summarizing the plot, I left out this detail – Teppei and Misao started their relationship via an extra-marital affair. Teppei’s first wife discovers the affair and kills herself. Thus, Teppei goes on to then marry his mistress (Misao) and the two give birth to Tamao in wedlock. This is all back-story. As such – does any of this have any relevancy to the supernatural activity at the apartment? Maybe, but maybe not. Teppei’s brother Tatsuji is mixed up in the overall family dysfunction of the back-story, and he ends up with his brother and his family when the ghosts really get down to business. Since it’s these two families that receive the worst of the horror, could there by any symbolism at work here? I would say “no”. The book has an overall literal tone to it, and therefore, any allusions to such symbolism would seem over-analytical. If you want to read a story where the haunting of a house is symbolic of the destruction of a marriage/family, I recommend The Grip of It by Jac Jemc.
So from time to time, the story strays, but for some reason, these detours didn’t bother me. I was enjoying the side chats with neighbors and some of the back-stories, even if they didn’t amount to twists. Eventually the plot moves along toward an ending that really ruffled some feathers. Some reviewers say that there “really was no ending” or that the ending was “too abrupt”. For me I say that “yes the ending is abrupt” but it “is an ending”. It isn’t an ending that I expected, but in the end (see what I did there!) I realized that, maybe it’s not the best conclusion, but I understand how the turn of events could lead to such an outcome.
Overall, I would give the book around 4.3 out of 5 stars. The overall creepiness of the story prevents the rating from slipping below the 4-star realm.
I discovered this novel on one of those many “list articles” that are floating around on the Internet. The name of the article, from unboundworlds.com is 21 of the Best Horror Novels Written by Women. I am grateful that I found this article, for it turned me on to Mariko Koike and her very scary novel. I can’t comment on her writing style, since I read her story via a translation. Still, I can appreciate her imagination and general sense of storytelling. At least I can do that!
For trivia sake, I have read five out of the twenty-one books of this list and reviewed four. They are:
The Graveyard Apartment – Mariko Koike
The Grip of It – Jac Jemc
The Haunting of Hill House – Shirley Jackson
The Woman in Black -Susan Hill
Beloved – Toni Morrison
Surprisingly, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is not on this list. I’ve read that one! Then again, it’s not really a horror novel. So maybe its omission is warranted.