Wednesday, 24 April 2019

The Good Son by You-jeong Jeong

From the Korean Queen of Crime

You-jeong Jeong's million selling Korean crime thriller The Good Son has now been translated for the English speaking market having been a hit both in Asia and across Europe. With Jeong already carrying the 'Queen of crime' moniker you might be wondering what all the fuss is about.

The Good Son begins with the titular good son, Yu-Jin, waking up at home in Incheon covered in blood. The recent past is a complete blur but with a dead body in the living room there is some serious clearing up to be done. This is less a 'who done it' than a 'why done it' as the book is in many ways the profile of a young psychopath but to leave it at that would be reductive.

What Jeong does really well is explore the relationship between Yu-Jin and his over-bearing mother and 'can do no wrong' adopted brother. We are teased with insight as Jeong drip feeds the backstory until we understand for ourselves why a smart, swim champion teen becomes a prescription drug addicted killer.

The translation by Chi-Young Kim is sound but there are a couple of places where The Good Son feels a little too international in style, the Vangelis soundtrack and the references to The Bucket List are examples. These banal references may or may not be in the original Korean text but a packing in contemporary Korean cultural references would have been a opportunity to build a more distinct oeuvre.   

A few misgivings aside this is a brilliant page turner for crime fans. 4⭐️

The Good Son by You-jeong Jeong, translated by Chi-Young Kim, published by Little Brown 320 pages

Monday, 22 April 2019

Late in the Day by Tessa Hadley

Gently but profoundly undone at the seams

Tessa Hadley's new novel, Late in the Day, is a deliciously nuanced tale about a group of friends whose lives begin to unravel when one of them suddenly collapses and dies at work. So begins a collective grieving process that opens old wounds and exposes past betrayal.

Hadley's group of friends are ordinary, in an urbane literary kind of way; where other characters's might explode with rage Hadley's come gently but profoundly undone at the seams thanks to subtle yet powerful prose. 

Yes this is another novel about art dealers, music teachers and Schubert but Hadley finds a way to keep the characters fresh and relatable. The trip to the Venice Biennale may be a step too far for some but this is worth forgiving as you become absorbed in the story. Johanna Thomas-Corr, writing in The Guardian, went as far as to call the novel a 'Hampstead version of the Cherry Orchard' but for me Late in the Day is a British novel.

Beautifully written with intelligent poise and restraint. 4⭐️

Late in the Day by Tessa Hadley published by Jonathon Cope 288 pages

Sunday, 14 April 2019

Lanny by Max Porter

First 5 star review of the year

Max Porter's new novel Lanny  is a novel you'll never forget you read. Porter may have begun to define his unique poetic style in the brilliant Grief is the Thing with Feathers (2016) but with Lanny he takes us to the next level and beyond with pure literary virtuosity.

The book tells the story of a missing boy in a small commuter village on the outskirts of London; a well worn literary trope given a new lease of life by Porter. The boy is wistful and at times a loner until his creative mother encourages him to spend time with a local artist whilst his father takes the train into town daily reflecting on the advent of middle aged ennui. Neither parent is prepared for the shock of what follows.

Stylistically the novel is a tour de force. Porter writes each chapter from a different perspective  which provides the reader with tension, pace and adrenalin as the story unfolds. But its the narration from Dead Papa Toothwort that is most memorable. Made from snippets of overheard phrases Dead Papa Toothwort is the voice of the town, the ethereal personality of the earth itself whose appearance can shape-shift and take the form of whom or whatever he likes.

Dead Papa Toothwort is a device which Porter uses boldly to lift Lanny from novel to fable adding myth and folklore to the contemporary setting. Like an ancient text Dead Papa Toothworth's laments can be hard to read as they twist and swirl across and around the page making Lanny an experience as much as a read.

Lanny is classic, there is no doubt. Read in one go for maximum impact. 5⭐️

Lanny by Max Porter published Faber and Faber 224 pages