Saturday, August 15, 2009

Fiction: Apartment 14F

Apartment 14F: An Oriental Ghost Story
Written by Christian Saunders

Okay, I've never seriously reviewed fiction before, but I guess it should be easier than movies coz you don't have to think about acting, sound or cinematography... but if this review is completely incoherant... it's not my fault. Here goes.

Novella about a guy who moves from London to Beijing to teach English, only to discover that his apartment is haunted.

The idea is pretty familiar but then, what isn't, and this actually provides a way better insight into Chinese culture than most. I don't think I've really read any Asian-set ghost stories (except The Ring and sequel, and a shitload of folktales from that general area), but I've seen a lot of movies, which are generally either produced in the country in which they are set and are at times borderline incomprehensible, or they are produced in the states and make everything feel like America. This book manages to have some interesting details regarding modern Chinese culture without feeling like a textbook.

Moving on, the novel is extremely fast paced, almost too much so, at least for the first twnety or so pages, which are pretty much set-up for the last thirty. It represents a long period of time and has to get squished into a short number of pages.

Everything goes by really quickly without allowing for a lot of character development or time for the creepy stuff to sink in. There are a number of weird and alarming bits, in particular a scene in which the main character 'dreams' that long black hair invades his bed, going in his mouth, down his throat, pretty gross stuff, but then it's on to the next thing. Although honestly, I prefer that to dragging things out forever.

But yeah, the weird hits the fan, so to speak, in the second half, starting with a blind old woman who reads palms with her tongue (that freaked me out... a lot... fuck), and progressing from there at a more reasonable speed, getting steadily creepier as it draws closer to what we all know will be an unpleasant ending (and the ending is satisfyingly unpleasant).

Now. Weird pacing aside, I quite liked Saunders' writing - there is a slightly sarcastic sense of humour throughout, as well as a sort of modernity (one exposition scene is done through Facebook. It's kinda cool. The future is now!) and real-ness. He doesn't bull-shit around with unnecessarily complex weirdness, rather, the writing is straight and to the point, and the story is punctuated (punctuated?) by some cool and accurate comments, such as "... in this strange new environment, every negative was magnified tenfold and seemed altogether more ominous and threatening". I dunno, I really liked that, I guess coz I've thought the same thing often in much less articulate terms.

Reminds me of when I moved to my current location and for one night it was just me and Mr. Blue camping out in the house. It was November and the furnace was out of oil so it was freezing and everything was creepy. That night I decided to stay up late and read Stephen King, which was definitely a bad idea, so now I will always associate this house with "Sometimes They Come Back" and "Trucks" on some base level. Interestingly, I also read The Penelopiad around that time but it doesn't haunt my consciousness quite so much... go figure...

ANYWAY (whoo, that was quite the tangent. I think there's something wrong with me), Apartment 14F is pretty creepy and overall, a good way to spend an evening or two.

Apartment 14F will be available for purchase September 1st 2009 here.

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