Book Review: The Graveyard Apartment Is A Spine Chilling Read

The Graveyard Apartment book cover

Mariko Koike’s The Graveyard Apartment, originally published in Japan in 1986, has a brand new English translation that was published on October 11, 2016. That’s a thirty year gap, and you might be curious if it still holds up. I am personally of the opinion that good horror is timeless, so let’s take a look.

The story centers around the Kano family, who recently found a great deal on an apartment in Tokyo. The catch, however, is that the apartment complex is built right next to a cemetery, Buddhist temple, and crematorium. Husband Teppei is particularly proud of how cheap it was and how great the commute is, and daughter Tamao is pleased to find there are friends for her in the building. The wife Misao however has strong reservations. Nevertheless, she goes along with it and tries to make do, despite the constant bad feelings that follow her.

Misao and Teppei might not be sympathetic characters to most readers. Their relationship led to the suicide of Teppei’s first wife, Reiko. That’s not really a spoiler, I promise. It comes up super early in the book and they continuously think about her. The family is really already haunted (at least metaphorically) by the time they move into the apartment by the graveyard, and that may explain why they thought it was such a good idea. Or maybe they were looking for punishment and more reminders of what they had done.

I personally did feel bad for Misao. She defended the memory of Reiko fiercely. She felt punished by both her family, and by Teppei’s, who never really accepted her even if they continued to support Teppei. Reiko was also a very traditional woman, and Misao was not; she took time off work while Tamao was at home, but now that she was entering school she was picking up more freelance work. From Teppei’s point of view, Misao being nontraditional is what excited him about her, but for Misao that seemed to be strikes against her. She views her younger self as hedonistic and is suffering for her transgressions years later.

The horror is tense, and thankfully does not rely on gore or shock. It starts off very slowly and builds up. When the Kanos realize what’s going on, it is too late. My biggest gripe however is that I didn’t feel it was sufficiently explained why the Kano family was targeted. Oh, there’s reasons for the ghosts of the graveyard to be angry in general, but why the Kano family specifically are attacked I didn’t really understand. Maybe Reiko’s ghost was there all along and the other ghosts wished to avenge her, but it had been years since Reiko’s death and it just seems utterly unfair that the child and the dog would get punished as well as the parents. Speaking of, I do usually find it’s cheap to put children and animals in danger for the sake of tension.

Despite the unsatisfactory ending, I did overall enjoy the book and found it sufficiently creepy for a Halloween read. Horror in my opinion is very difficult to get right, and despite it’s age I think The Graveyard Apartment holds up well. It certainly made me wary of doing laundry in the basement!

The Graveyard Apartment by Mariko Koike was translated by Deborah Boliver Boehm and is published by Thomas Dunne Books. It can be found on Amazon, Barnes and Nobles, and other stores where fine books are sold.

Megan “Spooky” Crittenden is a secluded writer who occasionally ventures from her home to give aid to traveling adventurers.