The Girl From the Well by Rin Chupeco (Galley)
Release Date: August 5, 2014
Genre: Fiction, horror, young adult, ghosts, paranormal, supernatural, has no one learned their lesson about murdering young Japanese girls by throwing them in wells?
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Summary: Okiku, read: the girl from the well, has spent her afterlife seeking revenge for all the children of the world who were wronged in life, gaining the vengeance for others that she could not gain for herself. Until a strange tattooed boy named Tarquin arrives and changes everything. A conduit for the horrifying monsters that Okiku sends to their death on a regular basis, Tarquin and Okiku must team up with help from an unlikely source to take on a new threat together: the devious woman in black.
While it may read like The Grudge (a terrifying ghost seeks revenge) meets The Ring (a terrifying ghost who died in a well seeks revenge) The Girl From the Well is actually based on the Japanese ghost story “Banchō Sarayashiki” which is sort of The Grudge meets The Ring.
The folktale version follows the beautiful servant Okiku, who spurns the advances of her samurai employer Aoyama Tessan. Unable to handle being turned down, he does the next logical thing and convinces her she lost one of ten of his family’s very important plates. Fearful of her own death (because sexual harassment suits and unemployment were not yet a thing), Okiku counts the plates but only comes up with nine. Wanting to assuage her guilt, Okiku confesses to Aoyama that there are only nine plates. Aoyama says he will overlook her “transgression” if she becomes his lover, but when she again refuses he throws her down a well and she transforms into an Onryō, a vengeful spirit.
Leaving me to wonder, when will men learn that you cannot murder a woman by throwing her down a well if you want to ensure that she won’t come back to haunt you from beyond the grave?
Another popular version of the story, the Ningyō Jōruri version, is very similar (ten plates become nine and it features a horrible man who handles rejection by throwing women into wells) but is set at the now popular tourist location Himeji Castle, where the well that sits on the premises is part of the guided tour and is referred to as Okiku’s Well.
According to legend, at night the ghost of Okiku rises from the well, counts to nine and shrieks when she cannot find the missing tenth plate.
As in the Japanese ghost story, our narrator, 16-year-old Okiku is an unavenged spirit who has some serious issues with the number nine. Or more specifically, a nothing more who seeks to rescue murdered children from their tormenters by freeing their spirits. As Okiku explains, “I am where the dead children go,” but “where they go I cannot follow.”
It’s a tad “Dead Like Me”-esque, minus the humor and the sass-tastic narrator. Instead, we get a damaged ghost, resulting in an eery and disjointed narrative which will have you cheering her on and cringing in equal measure.
Okiku spends her free time in the most satisfying yet horrifying way possible, going after murderers who unjustly stole the lives of others (particularly children) and leaving behind bloated corpses whose autopsy reports reveal they drowned, despite being found locked in their own homes. It’s pretty frightening stuff, but Chupeco is in her element when describing these scenes, particularly as Okiku scuttles about on ceilings and punishes humans for their wrongdoings.
The most horrifying part? Okiku can recognize these killers because they drag the children whose lives they stole around with them. Although they are unseen by the person who killed them, Okiku witnesses them as gaunt and sad figures who are chained or tied to their murderer (both literally and figuratively).
After meeting a brooding tattooed boy with a very dark past named Tarquin Halloway (Tark), Okiku can’t help but be embroiled in the events of one of the living for the first time since her own death. Albeit to rescue him from something she is more familiar with: a dangerous ghost who wears all black and has a sneaky habit of appearing in mirrors.
In order to free the woman in black and send her to her own afterlife, Tark, Okiku and Tark’s teacher assistant cousin Calliope Starr (Callie) travel to Japan to give us a tour of all things Japanese and spiritual, including a shrine maiden named Kagura, who is most likely named after the theatrical dance and not the “InuYasha” character.
The trio also visits the volcanic Oserazan, which is believed to be the entrance to Hell – thanks in part to the smell – complete with a small brook that is often compared to the Sanzu River, which the dead must cross on their way to the afterlife. Think the River Styx. And of course a visit to the haunted Himeji Castle.
One ghost tour of Japan please!
-A truly horrifying experience featuring murderers getting their comeuppance
-Creepy writing style with even creepier plot points
-Get to experience Japanese culture, specifically spiritual beliefs and legends
-Came off a little anticlimactic after all the terrifying build up
“We do not go gently, as your poet encourages, into the good night.”
“It is not in my nature, to be interested in the living. But there are many things, I have found, that defy nature.”
“Like me, she cannot leave… Doomed to wait forever on dark shores, straining for glimpses of stars.”
Has The Girl From the Well awoken in you a latent desire for Japenese horror stories? I highly recommend looking into manga horror writer and illustrator Junji Ito, who has written some tales that still give me chills years later. ALL THE NIGHTMARES!