Alienation, ennui and self-destruction are perceived as artistic creations in this icy 1996 novel, its Korean author’s first in English translation.
The interactions, thoughts and fantasies of four protagonists interweave in a dreamlike narrative that eschews chronology and sequence, examining the role of “morbid desires, imprisoned deep in the unconscious” in each’s experience. A seemingly responsible video artist (C) contends with his brother (K), a cabdriver hooked on the thrill of “velocity,” for the attention of a mysteriously beautiful young woman who responds sexually to both, but who can choose neither man nor anything else to care about. Observing their several encounters is the unnamed narrator, an emotionless manipulator who offers to his “clients” the “service” of escaping the banality of existence. The endorsement of suicide is itself banality incarnate, as are such gloomy pronouncements as the woman’s petulant complaint that “people who can’t kill can’t ever truly love someone.” But the author is a stylish, inventive writer who builds eerie momentum out of cryptic conversations and deliberately imprecise characterizations. The brothers are both vividly differentiated and shown to possess similarly self-destructive traits. And the woman—a kind of Eternal Feminine temptress smiling and beguiling her way to oblivion—twirls around the text like a spinning jewel, appearing as an unresponsive drifter named Se-yeon, an avatar of the biblical heroine (and murderess) Judith as depicted by artist Gustav Klimt. The book’s dark doings are efficiently framed by descriptive allusions to famous paintings that celebrate death, and by the narrator’s assured orchestration of its siren call.
Pretty sick, but absorbing. Noir with a piquant exotic twist.