The Summer of the Ubume by Natsuhiko Kyogoku
Wandering the vast wilderness before the great mountain, Tatsumi Sekiguch notices a bookstore and a noodle shop nestled among the small town- the bookstore the reason Tatsumi has traveled this great distance hoping that an old college friend, Akihiko Kyogokudo, the owner of the bookstore and collector of rare books can shed light on a local mystery in a small village in Natsuhiko Kyogoku's The Summer Of The Ubume.
The debut novel from the author, translated into English by Alexander O. Smith with Elye J. Alexander- tells the story from the prospective of Tatsumi Sekiguch reaching the destination of the bookstore referred to as Kyogokudo, for the name of its book loving proprietor, reading a strange book that isn't for sale when his friend comes calling.
Knowing that Kyogokudo has the same interests in science, the metaphysical, and folklore that the two shared back in their college days, Tatsumi, now a freelance writer is looking for advice about a local case of a woman that is said to have been "holding in" from giving birth for about twenty months, after the strange disappearance of her husband sometime in the last year.
While the family is under speculation for the disappearance, the pregnant woman seems to become more frail and have fallen more ill as her condition progresses.
Putting together a team of a police detective, a freelance writer, and exorcist, and bookstore owner to get to the bottom of the mystery of the a missing man, a cursed woman, and a clinic that seems to be more than meets the eye, The Summer Of The Ubume is a bone chilling tale.
Reaching the bookstore, Tatsumi Sekiguch hopes that an old friend from college might be able to shed light on the mysterious story he is researching of a village woman who has refrained from giving birth for twenty months after the disappearance of her husband.
Metaphysical vs Folklore
Kyogokudo is a man of science, at least from his education. Back in college when he studied with Tatsumi, his mind has not let go of scientific fact in the light of his second passion, reading odd books that come across the shop. Not sharing with Tatsumi that the book he was reading on arrival was about such a subject, as the bookstore owner welcomes his friend back to his private rooms to relax and chat after closing, Kyogokudo ventures next door to the noodle shop to get something to eat for his guest.
Sitting alone in the room, Tatsumi eventually looks over at the book that is not for sale, only to no longer feel alone in the room. With his mind already focused on the strange tale, he suddenly seems the image of a woman that is holding an infant, grinning up at him from a kneeling position. Afraid of the strange appropriation, he breaks from the trance to see an image in the book of a woman with bloodied thighs clinging to a child and shutters.
When Kyogokudo reappears with the food, the two get to talking about the vision and the Umbume, a creature of Japanese folklore said to be the spirit of either a young woman or crone holding an infant- the ghost of a woman lost in childbirth.
How does this relate to the village story of the woman with the missing husband that refuses to give birth? Was there a connection to the child she was carrying that it was to be born a demon that she must contain with the last of her strength?
Where was her husband after all this time?
The friends decide to uncover the mystery.
Was the frail woman holding back a demon from being birthed into the world with the last of her strength?
With the pleading of her sister, Kyoko sits in a hospital, frail from the pregnancy that has not ended in twenty months. Her huge distended belly is about all that is left of her, whatever inside eating away at her life force.
With the help of Kyogokudo, Tatsumi, and a friend that is a police detective, the group begins to try to understand how the husband of Kyoko could have gone missing from a locked room and never be located again.
The more the group investigates deeper into the background of Kyoko's family, finding a connection between women and the folklore of the Ubume, it seems that there is plenty of reason that Kyoko wouldn't want to birth the child.
The family has been cursed, and until it is lifted, no woman especially Kyoko and her child are safe from the clutches of evil.
What about the sister that is so willing to share information about the situation? Is she really grieving the illness of her sister and the disappearance of her brother in law? When the supernatural explanation leads to needing an exorcist, could it be possible that there is truth to the local folklore about the Ubume, a spirit depicted of a woman that has passed in child birth.
It wasn't by change that Kyoko was taken to the Kunonki clinic, having more in common with the disappearance of her husband and the cursed fate that has befallen her as the group investigates the mystery.
A Cursed Lineage
Translated into English, the chilling mashup of horror and mystery by Natsuhiko Kyogoku reads like a Koji Suzuki novel who's adaption of the his Ringu series has become both the Japanese horror franchise based off the Ringu and Sadako movies, and the Western adaption of The Ring and its spinoffs.
The Summer of The Ubume, found its only film adaption as well.
Japanese horror novels have always been one of my guilty pleasures, so coming across an author who's translated treasures makes me want to get my hands on the English adaptions of any of Kyogoko's other novels.
The concept of the Umbume, is creepy enough without adding the motive for a disappearance for Kyoko's husband and the allusion that her child must be something a la Rosemary's Baby.
The Summer Of The Ubume puts together a rag-tag team of investigators striving to find out the sinister truth about the cursed lineage of Kyoko's bloodline and how it connects to the folklore of the region in a truly chilling mystery you might want to save for late night reading.