Strangers by Taichi Yamada and Wayne P. Lammers

Just finished reading Strangers.  It’s a very thought provoking book and had me setting off on all sorts of tangents.

The story starts with Hideo Harada a recently divorced script writer who has moved into his office apartment to live.  The divorce was amicable.  Harada and his wife had grown apart and in fact Harada doesn’t even have much of a relationship with his son.

Basically, and I don’t really want to go into the story too much because this is a short book and also it would spoil the plot, Harada starts to notice the quietness of the building.  Up to that point he hadn’t realised the apartments/office block that he was living in was basically uninhabited and that by the close of play each day he was pretty much on his own in the building.  Except for one other resident, who lives a few floors lower down and comes to visit him one evening when she’s picked up the nerve to go knocking on a complete strangers door.  Alongside this we have a sort of parallel story where Harada revisits the town of his childhood.  His parents died when he was a fairly young age, I think 12, and yet when he returns he seems to strike up a friendship with a couple in their mid-thirties, who look identical to his dead mother and father.

Okay, that’s all I’m going to say about this in terms of plot.  You could call this a ghost story (but more on that in a minute), you could call it horror – although I don’t think I would personally (but I do admit there were a few very creepy moments) or you could call this a mystery.  It certainly felt like a mystery to me as I puzzled over what was going on.  I’m not saying I didn’t see where the story was going because I did, but that didn’t stop my enjoyment and I was simply intrigued.

The writing style is very matter of fact with no flourishes or extravagant descriptions.  It does put me in mind a little of the style of writing from the Ring and I don’t know whether that’s because this is a popular writing style in Japan or whether something is genuinely ‘lost in translation’.  I suspect that this writing style is popular.  It’s to the point, no embellishments, and yet, and I can’t think of another way to put it, when push comes to shove, it does make the hair stand up on the back of your neck.

I was reading and at first I just was simply riveted.  What on earth WAS going on?  I started to think that Harada was having some sort of nervous breakdown brought on by the separation.  Maybe some sort of wish fulfilment?  It was very puzzling.  I still can’t quite make up my mind about the whole parent visitation thing and am in two minds about whether this was something being used (by the other – and I can’t say more than that) as a red herring or diversionary tactic or whether they were a force on their own?  If anybody wants to chuck me a bone out there then just feel free.  I never got the impression his parents were harmful but that could also be wrong.

My other observations and what makes this strange in terms of calling it a ghost story is that if you think about it the actual ghosts weren’t really doing the haunting (well, I can’t elaborate).  Harada returns to his own home village and visits these spectres or whatever they are – they don’t appear at his place – how can you be having a haunting if you have to go and seek the ghosts after all.  Therein lies the conundrum, Harada wants to visit, he enjoys it.  He feels comfortable and accepted. And, really, thinking about it, given the chance to visit the parents you haven’t seen for the past 30 odd years would you take it?  Of course he wasn’t afraid, these are his parents.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, everything is going strangely wrong for Harada – in ways that he is unable to see, fathom or imagine.  On the one hand, he seems to be on a roll.  His writing is flowing (in fact its almost like he has a muse!), he’s working hard, he has a love life – what could possibly go wrong?

Now, on a separate note, although you probably aren’t going to pick too much up in this book about the Japanese culture I did find a couple of things interesting.  Firstly, that in this and a few other books I’ve read now, and maybe these were less modern, having a mistress seems to be almost a given – which is interesting (probably not the choice of words I would use if my ‘better’ half chose to take this up) but true.  Secondly, I was really interested in the Bon Festival that was mentioned which apparently is a very old custom where people and families honour their dead, they return to the ancestral home and the spirits also are said to return.  I liked the inclusion of this festival – which was used as a device to explain why everywhere was quieter in terms of people than normal – it sort of added another dimension to the whole aspect of ghosts.

I really enjoyed this.  It’s not your typical ghost story.  It’s a different style of writing.  But it’s certainly got a few chilling moments.

In terms of criticisms.  I wasn’t overly keen on the ending.  It wasn’t bad but it felt a little rushed.  I would have appreciated a bit more is all.

But, in spite of that it was good.  This definitely goes into my RIP reading event.  Go and check out the details at Stainless Steel Droppings.

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8 Responses to “Strangers by Taichi Yamada and Wayne P. Lammers”

  1. Chinoiseries

    I vaguely remember reading this a few years ago. I agree with you in that you really can’t say much about the story without revealing too much. Unfortunately, I somehow did not like it very much, but I don’t exactly recall why. Perhaps it was because the ending was not very satisfactory.

    Have you read all the Ring novels? What about Dark Water, by the same author?

    • lynnsbooks

      I’ve only read the first of the Ring novels but was thinking about reading the others. Not heard of Dark Water – do you recommend it? I quite liked this, I think the style is different from what I’m used to. The ending could certainly have been better – and yet there was something a little disturbing about it and I can’t quite put my finger on what it is.
      Lynn 😀

      • Chinoiseries

        I’ve only seen the Hollywood movie adaptation of Dark Water (which is pretty good btw, just as The Ring gave me the creeps on the big screen!), so I think the book must be good too. I still have to read it myself.

  2. Genki Jason

    Good review. When I first read a Taichi Yamada (In Search of Distant Voices) I felt like you did with this one. I own Strangers but I haven’t read it yet.

    Dark Water is a great story and part of a short story collection in the UK. Some of the stories are odd and not very creepy but there are some really creepy ones like Pleasure Cruise which was adapted into a film.

    P.S. The Japanese version of Dark Water of the film is the best!

    • lynnsbooks

      Did you like Distant Voices? I actually picked up Strangers after reading about the author from another blogger on my RIP event. I thought it was good. I like this writing style – it’s so very different to what I’m used to and definitely reminded me of the style of writing in The Ring. I’ve also heard about Dark Water and a few people have recommended the film. So, do I read the book first or just go for the scary movie?
      Lynn 😀

      • Genki Jason

        I did like Distant Voices. It has a similar writing style and a twisting mystery. It’s compact size meant saw me carrying it around in my pocket and reading it in snatches long after I’d finished it.

        As far as Dark Water goes, I’d say watch the movie first. But then I’m a film blogger 😉

      • lynnsbooks

        I think some times it is better to watch the film first – and in the case of these particular novels I think the films are usually much more chilling somehow. Doesn’t work for all books/to film. I usually prefer the book but just recently I’ve watched a couple of films which have definitely been the equal.
        Lynn 😀

      • Genki Jason

        I agree. Watch Audition first, then read the book.

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