On the Docket: Audition by Ryu Murakami (Translated by Ralph McCarthy)

Genre: Translated Fiction / Japanese Horror

The Publisher’s Plot Blurb:

In this gloriously over-the-top tale, Aoyama, a widower who has lived alone with his son since his wife died seven years ago, decides that it is time to remarry. Since Aoyama is a bit rusty when it comes to dating, a filmmaker friend proposes that he stage auditions for a movie he never intends to produce in order to cast the perfect woman as his bride. Only one of the applicants catches Aoyama’s attention: Yamasaki Asami, a striking young ballerina with a mysterious past. Blinded by his infatuation, Aoyama discovers too late that she is a far cry from the innocent young woman he imagined her to be. The novel’s fast-paced, thriller conclusion doesn’t spare the reader as Yamasaki takes off her angelic mask and reveals what lies beneath.

First Impressions: I’ve had this novel on request at the library for about two months. So, when I received a notification by e-mail that it was ready for pickup, I was excited. At the time, I was in the middle of reading two other novels that I had yet to finish. The plan was to complete those two before venturing into Audition. However, when I arrived home, I started to skim the first page, which inevitably led to the second, and third, and so on, until I had breezed through seventy pages. It wasn’t a book I had planned to read so quickly, but I simply could not put this novel down.  While researching Japanese Horror to expand my knowledge of the subject, I came across Ryu Murakami’s work. Audition, in particular, apparently inspired a highly acclaimed cult classic film.

If the novel is any indication of the movie, I can confidently say that I would not have the guts or the stomach to watch this film. Even though the story is fairly simple plot-wise, the characters are more complex than at first glance. Yamasaki, in particular, appears to be the typical “femme fatale” but the reader quickly realizes that she is not easy to categorize. Her desire for revenge is vacant, sadistic, and completely without reason. As more of her history is revealed, the sharpness of her memories suggests that her revenge is a cover for her true intentions.

Silhouetted against the off-white walls, she walked to the chair, bowed with modest grace, and sat down. That was all, but Aoyama had a very distinct sensation that something extraordinary was happening all around him. It was like being the millionth visitor to an amusement park, suddenly bathed in spotlights and a rain of balloons and surrounded with microphones and flashing cameras. As if luck, normally dispersed in billions of tiny, free-floating, gemlike particles, had suddenly coalesced in a single beatific vision -a vision that changed everything, forever.

What makes Audition so difficult to read is that you are constantly presented with the most gruesome parade of foreshadowing clues. All you can do is wait until the horror reveals itself, unfolds upon the page with sinister glee. I read the final twenty pages with my hand over my mouth, shocked beyond belief, my stomach churning with an icky sensation. Unfortunately, like the victim Aoyama, the reader must face the horror and terror with open eyes and every sense alive with attention. Your imagination does all the work for you, but Murakami’s prose does not beat around the bush. The text is blunt, unbearably violent, and yet, the reader must keep turning the pages because you’ve committed yourself to the curiosity that the story inspires.

“Listen,” Yoshikawa had said on the phone the night before last. “I know you’re pretty far gone, but try to keep your feet on the ground. Don’t let her set the pace, whatever you do. We don’t know anything for certain about this girl, but I can’t shake the feeling that something’s wrong here. I’m not saying she was intentionally lying, but, come on, there’s something strange about naming a guy who died a year and a half ago as your mentor. He died of a heart problem, apparently, but if he really was her mentor, how could she not know that?”

Although I wouldn’t categorize Audition as a favourite, I enjoyed the subtleties of Murakami’s character development, and his knack for jacking up the tension to a fevered pitch.

Final Verdict: As always, Japanese Horror is in a league all its own. I never know what to expect, which certainly makes for a shocking read. The brutality of this novel is especially difficult to swallow but the story does not lack emotional depth. It is not a typical wham-bam-thank-you-mam thriller. Murakami takes the time to understand his characters and their blurry motives. I couldn’t put this down, mainly out of shock than anything else. Regardless, if you’re into horror, this is a captivating novel.