In You-Jeong Jeong’s international bestseller the reader is faced with a protagonist whose struggles subsume the narrative, taking away from the story at hand, in my humble opinion. When Yu-jin wakes one morning in a stupor, he asks himself what’s happened. Could he have had an epileptic seizure, which would surely account for the metallic blood smell that fills his nostrils? Or, might there have been something more? When he discovers that he is covered in blood, Yu-jin begins to wonder if he has blacked out. As he meanders around his home, he discovers that his mother is nowhere to be found, though a razor is caked with the same blood. Frantic, though trying to cover up what he may have done, Yu-jin struggles to come to terms with what has happened. He finds his mother’s journal and reads entries throughout, as he seeks to piece it all together. He is supposed to have been his mother’s ‘good’ child, so could he actually have taken her life? As the story progresses and Yu-jin awaits news about his mother or at least her body, panic sets in, which is fulled by his refusing to take his medication. In a narrative filled with flashbacks that thicken the plot and point to potential reasons that Yu-jin may have been harbouring anger, the reader becomes lost in the tangential queries that turn the story from a strong mystery into an exploration of the heightened senses that Yu-jin has while not on his medication. Did he do it or is there another explanation? For me it became a futile query, as I sought only to finish and push the book away like a bad smell. Recommended for those who may able to see more within these pages than I did, and can see what some popular authors seemed to have discovered when they exuded praise in their dust jacket blurbs.
I love a good mystery as much as the next person, even when the story is penned in a language other than English. However, I have come to see that not all cultures feel the same about mysteries or deem writing quality in the same way. I have read many pieces that have gone through a translator and been blown away, both in Europe and across parts of Asia, but this piece did nothing for me. While I must applaud Jeong for developing her protagonist, there was little I found captivating. Yu-jin began as an interesting character, finding himself surrounded by dried blood and wondering if he could have killed someone. His apparent connection to his mother makes the possible crime all the more interesting, though the story left the realm of ‘did he or not?’ and became more of a predatory exploration of the mind of an unmediated epileptic. Yu-jin reveals much of his past throughout, fuelled by a journal his mother penned. While some readers may enjoy this, it began to get highly jilted for me and I began hoping for a quick ending or some miraculous turn of events. Alas, neither happened for me. Jeong adds other characters of interest that serve to pull the protagonist in many directions, though I did not feel much from them as well. The story’s premise was intriguing, though my Western mindset may have expected something more or better developed. One cannot fault the author entirely, as there was great detail throughout and the narrative did continue its forward movement. I took a moment to wonder if it was the translation that may have staled the experience for me, though I think it was more the stylistic differences from what I am used to reading that left me feeling unfulfilled. It happens, but I cannot pad my review and simply fall on my own sword. Add this one to the list of ‘tried it and personal epic fails’. One burning question for me… are novels I love lost on readers from other cultures, if this book is supposed to be so great?
Kudos, Madam Jeong, for your piece. It was not for me and I will blame neither of us for this reading impasse.
A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons