This lightly Kafkaesque fable from a South Korean writer presents a man who suddenly finds his world not quite right in increasingly strange ways.
Known only as K, the hero wakes up one morning to find his alarm ringing on a Saturday, his pajamas missing and his favorite aftershave changed from brand V to Y. They’re small, almost explainable alterations, especially given the heavy drinking he performed the previous night. Soon, though, it’s clear that many things aren’t what they should be or what they seem to be, and that includes his wife and daughter and most of his relatives. More deceptions, illusions, masks and role-playing arise as K embarks on what’s at first a simple quest to find his lost mobile phone. Something that reads like a butcher’s promotion is an ad “from a purveyor of human organs.” A psychiatrist could be a “fruitcake.” A girl for hire, wonderfully named Sailor Moon, the Moon Nymph, is a “Pinocchio-like figure.” The whole situation could be a “mammoth conspiracy,” an “elaborate production that Big Brother was staging.” Like the almost-boy, Choi’s imagination is also loose-limbed, at times seeming to scramble through a grab bag of ideas, allusions and narrative elements, and ultimately succumbing to some unsatisfying gimmickry. Yet he has a knack for the sinister moment, and one fine and funny sustained passage takes K the devout Catholic through Confession and Mass. Most impressive is the consistency of K’s voice, sometimes comical, ever skeptical, oddly acquiescent—more Beckett than Kafka and a real achievement.
Choi may be straining for postmodern effects, but there’s a lot of charm to his anxious novel, as if Thurber and Orwell had gotten together for a skull session.