I’m generally not one for horror. I was a jumpy kid, and horror movies–even dumb ones–were often too much for me. I’ve gotten a bit better since then, but as much as I don’t care much for horror movies, I do greatly enjoy horror novels. Why that is I cannot say, but it may be that there is something comforting about the page that isn’t as visually worrisome as the motion picture.
I recently read author Rin Chupeco’s debut novel The Girl from the Well. Review and potential SPOILERS behind the cut.
The novel opens with a mysterious narrator (eventually named as Okiku) watching a fellow she refers to as the Stained Shirt Man. Stained Shirt Man recently murdered a small girl, and her spirit is floating behind him, chained to him in a manner he is oblivious to.
Who is Okiku? She’s the inspiration for every creepy Japanese ghost story like The Ring.
She’s been dead for 300 or so years and spends her time avenging murdered children. She does so by killing the murderer, leaving behind what looks like a waterlogged corpse that drowned days earlier, even if the body is found almost immediately in a dry place, and then Okiku often sets the spirit or spirits of the dead children on to…wherever. She doesn’t know.
Okiku can appear, to those who can see her, as either the sweet girl of 16 or 17 she was when her feudal lord had her tossed into a well, or as a drowned corpse herself, dressed in black, often hanging upside down since she was tossed into the well head-first.
After doing her thing to the Stained Shirt Man (that’s Chapter One, so don’t worry I have given too much away), she spies a boy of about fifteen moving into the neighborhood. He has some odd tattoos he is desperately trying to cover up. His name is Tarquin Halloway. He’s half-Japanese and has a ghost problem of his own. Okiku for the first time decides to try preventing a death instead of avenging one.
As a narrator, Okiku isn’t overly good with names. She is an obsessive counter, and as long as the total of whatever she’s counting isn’t nine, she seems to be OK. As Tark and his slightly older cousin Callie, both of whom can see both Okiku and the other, nastier ghost, work through Tark’s own supernatural issues, Okiku reflects on her afterlife and how she can never move on from where she is.
A short novel, The Girl from the Well gets its mojo from its unique narrator’s voice. I wouldn’t say there is anything especially original about the work, but it made for a good read. I’m giving it seven out of ten weird tattoos. Horror fans, especially fans of horror of the Japanese persuasion, will probably enjoy this one.