Thursday, 9 December 2021

Lemon by Kwon Yeo-Sun; Translated by Janet Hong

Catriona Troth

What We Thought of It:

“For over sixteen years, I’ve pondered, prodded, and worked every detail embroiled in the case known as ‘The High School Beauty Murder.’”

Lemon is a highly unusual psychological thriller, by Korean author Kwon Yeo-Sun.

Told from the perspective of three former schoolmates, it recounts the events around the brutal and unsolved murder of a fourth – a breathtakingly beautiful young woman called Kim Hae-on.

The three are Kim Hae-on’s younger sister, still obsessed with uncovering the truth of what happened; the troubled girlfriend of the one of the two chief suspects, and a third, who was in the same class as Kim Hae-on. Between the three of them we see partial, overlapping accounts of what happened, then and in the years that followed.

The mesmeric quality of Hae-on’s beauty is such that, even in life, she appears doll-like, perhaps even to herself. She seems only to exist in terms of the – often unhealthy - effect her beauty has on other people.

The colour yellow is a recurring note in the book - the yellow dress worn by the victim the day she died, and then later by her young sister; the yellow of the eggs yolks. The imagined revenge of a yellow angel...   

As the narrative proceeds, each new piece of the puzzle obscures as much as it reveals. It’s as if we are glimpsing things in fragments of a broken mirror. Even at the end of the book nothing is settled, nothing is sure – and as readers, we are left to piece together events and decide for ourselves whether or not we have understood who the real murderer is.

This is a slim novel – you could read it in a couple of sittings. But while each character may be sparing in terms of what they reveal in facts, they expose themselves, in what they say and in what they choose not to disclose.

Intriguing, illusive. Not quite like anything else I’ve read – so often one of the chief pleasures of reading books in translation.

You’ll Enjoy This If You Loved: What’s Left of Me is Yours by Stephanie Scott; Ponti by Sharlene Teo

Avoid If You Dislike: Unresolved endings.

Perfect Accompaniment: 'Han o Baek Nyeon,' song by Aeran Oh

Genre: Psychological Thriller, In Translation

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