PLOT: 3/5 CHARACTERS: 2.5/5 WRITING: 3/5 ENTERTAINMENT: 3/5
“Rutna had devoured the food served on her plate within a matter of seconds and was now chewing on her cutlery and crunching the plate’s edges…It was whilst he was watching his wife engage in this peculiar behaviour that he also realised her long hair strands were somehow standing on end, as if she was enclosed inside a room without gravity.”– Arya Narrayan, Massage
A single look at the title, subtitle, and cover, and one would think that this book is erotica. After all, what else would the name Massage: Welcome to the Paradise Thai Massage Parlour convey? But delve into it just a little deeper, and you would know how wrong you were.
The story begins on a January day in 2020 and we see that our main character Prasong Songchon has been pacing anxiously on the terrace of his residential building in the Yan Nawa area of Bangkok.
Prasong is a handsome 27 years old junior electrician at the Metropolitan Authority in Bangkok, who works on a meager salary of 6000 Thai Baht, hardly enough to pay his monthly rent.
Tensed because his wife Rutna Songchon is suffering from chronic back pain and because even after trying every option available, relief is far away. Finally, when nothing seems to work, as a last resort, Prasong books a special massage at The Paradise Thai Massage Parlour, which is exactly when weird and ghastly things start to happen for no particular rhyme or reason.
This confuses not just Rutna but also Prasong who is left clueless about the predicament of his wife and her unknown suffering.
It becomes his object of pursuit – this reason behind the paranormal encounters, and at the same time, it also becomes the central theme of the book.
Soon other characters including massage therapist Senorita and Police Major Somchai Wangsuwan are also drawn into this bizarre set of events, and frightening things start to happen to them too. In this resulting mad mix, demons, ghosts, ecto-mists, and other supernatural elements are added which make the overall story a deadly concoction of horror, dread, mystery, and unfathomable evil.
One thing that immediately strikes you as different is the unique setting of the book which is based in Bangkok, Thailand. The characters, the backdrop, the locations, etc are all distinctly Thai, and this itself is a refreshing aspect.
This is the kind of book that one goes into, not knowing what to expect. What starts as a set of paranormal events is soon turned into a mystery as the reader is left pondering over the who, what, and whys of the equation.
The answers themselves lie in a puzzle that takes its own sweet time to reveal itself layer by layer, mystery by mystery, and haunting by haunting, serving us spook and dread at every page.
The great part is that everything that gets documented through the narration is very visual and very vivid. It would have certainly made for a good cinematic experience, however, served in the format of text, it fails to create that desired effect, instead becoming monotonous, tedious, and over-the-top.
A little more serving of mystery, as opposed to gore, would have gone a long way in making the book a much better experience for the reader. After a while, the reader has had quite an overdose of all the horrifying experiences.
On the other front, the book delves into some issues that are urgent and moral, spiritual and philosophical. It is hard to ignore the author’s sharp views about the corruption of traditional massages and rightly so.
One gets an idea of how decadent and rampant this issue has really become in Thailand (It is here that the author’s job with getting the cultural, and contemporary background of Thailand right needs to be appreciated). How a traditional curative form has been reduced to a corrupt symbol of a depraved and unscrupulous society is intensely portrayed in the book.
“For example, say I were to write a fictitious story with the name Massage; people would think that I was writing some erotic story, and so it is really a shame that this traditional therapy has attained such a dishonourable reputation.”
Move on to the next level, which is where the reader gets acquainted with the climax of the novel, and one would know that there is an underlying moral lesson, craftily buried beneath those layers of mystery and gore.
In the end, Massage is a beginner-friendly horror drama that can be picked up by those who have a penchant for horror and gore. While, the book does have its own positives in terms of the novelty of the plot and settings, a little more effort in terms of character development and emotional connection would have done wonders for the overall reading experience.
Can’t wait to read it? Buy your copy of Massage using the link below.