Book Review: The Graveyard Apartment by Mariko Koike

Cover via Goodreads.
Cover via Goodreads.

I’ve spent the past few days buried up to my eyeballs in Mariko Koike’s The Graveyard Apartment, and to say I thoroughly enjoyed the book would be a lie; in fact, it failed to live up to my expectations and I am left wanting. Before I delve into my review, I would like to thank NetGalley, Thomas Dunne Books, and the author and translator, for providing me with an advanced reader’s copy for the purpose of an unbiased review.

Horror is my ultimate weakness. Anything that has the potential to be spooky or scary, I am likely to gobble up without a second thought: or, at the very least, take the time to sit down and read or watch. After reading the synopsis for Mariko Koike’s The Graveyard Apartment, I eagerly applied for the opportunity to review a copy of the book prior to release. Now that I’ve finished devouring it, I find myself with many unanswered questions.

The Graveyard Apartment takes place in the late 80s, and was, in fact, originally published in 1986. It tells the tale of a small family, the Kanos, that has made their first real estate purchase: a comfortable, two bedroom apartment located on the eight floor of a new apartment building that, as the book’s title indicates, is located near a graveyard… and a temple… and a crematorium. Apparently that’s not enough to warn off potential buyers though, because the Kanos are not the only ones duped into purchasing one of the fourteen apartments. Once they’ve settled in, strange occurrences begin and they quickly find themselves in a living nightmare.

Beginning with the characters, I find nearly all of them to be unlikable in one way or another, with the exception of the daughter, Tamao. Her parents, Misao and Teppei Kano, strike me as extremely self-centered and one-dimensional, as do her aunt and uncle, Naomi and Tatsuji. Their downstairs neighbors, the Inoues, are precisely what you’d expect of a more outgoing family, and the managers of the apartment are rather dry in comparison. I felt little to no sympathy at any point for anyone other than the daughter, the dog, and the finch and for this, especially in something that has been labeled a psychological thriller, is extremely disappointing. Without being able to form a connection to the characters, I tend to find it difficult to actually care about what happens to them, and so upon the conclusion of the book, I simply shrugged and closed my Kindle app.

The story itself has a lot of potential, and yes I am aware that is a word I throw around a lot in my reviews. When I look at a plot, I tend to form my own thoughts regarding what could happen, and a lot of times that does lead to me being let down. For instance, in The Graveyard Apartment we learn that Misao is Teppei’s second wife, the first having been lost to tragedy. Though Teppei’s first wife, Reiko, is mentioned very often in the book, and made to seem as if there is a key role to be played by her, there actually isn’t: it’s all useless information that has been thrown out to the reader, but has no real connotation on the story. Likewise, Misao discovers that there had originally been plans to build an underground mall in the area back in the 60s. Given the strange things that happen throughout the book, one might expect to see and learn a lot more about this supposed mall and the aftermath of its construction having been canceled. We don’t. Again, it is an element to the story that is not fully fleshed out, even though it is clearly a major factor in the history of the apartment building that the Kanos have moved into.

As if those two players weren’t enough of a disappointment, the book does not come to a conclusion, and for me this is a disappointment. I don’t care much for happy endings; in fact, I rather prefer unhappy endings. The Graveyard Apartment robs us of any sense of finality, though, and in truth fails to draw the story to a true close. As a reader, we can surmise the outcome based on the book’s epilogue, but that’s about as much we can do. We can figure out what happened to the Kanos and their fate, but we do not learn why. Instead, Koike continues to hint at a malevolent being haunting a recently built apartment complex whose origins are unknown, and whose origins no one really seems to be overly curious about. Sure, they’re scared, but they don’t really seem to care beyond that. There wasn’t any shortage of clues either, as to why the place may have been haunted; only a lack of motivation in regards to finding out why that extends beyond Teppei’s initial apprehension.

I really, truly can’t wrap my head around how much was wasted in this book. It was like watching a B-rated horror flick where someone forgot to tie up the loose ends. Honestly, I would have liked to see more revealed regarding Reiko and the failed underground mall.

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