Lemon: a modern Korean mystery

What an impossible novel to attempt to categorise. Lemon is a literary mystery in every sense; beautifully composed but oddly obscure. In a disorienting story told from three perspectives, we observe the effects of a violent murder on the victim’s family and the two plausible suspects in the years that follow the crime. It’s a story of multiple lives shattered, where the passage of time only amplifies the pain.

The author explores the lifelong consequences of grief and guilt, and of what happens when people obsess on what they have lost: ignoring the living to commemorate the dead. The author expresses ugly concepts in beautiful language; strikingly accomplished for a debut (even if it’s not a full-length novel).

Translated crime fiction can often be challenging – that’s why we read it, after all, to experience a fleeting sense of an alien culture, an unseen society. Lemon requires particular attention. I’ve no doubt that the translation is first-class, because the prose itself is both poetic and philosophical.

But it is also frustratingly abstract and distanced, like the wisp of an idea which you can’t quite articulate. It reminded me of Miss Smilla’s Feeling For Snow, but Lemon provided few moments of cross-cultural insight in the way that the breakthrough Scandinavian novel did. It felt more like an unreasonable invasion of privacy into the misery which trauma can create. Many people compare Lemon to the film Parasite, and perhaps they’re correct. I also found that film to be an essentially empty shell, an intellectual exercise in the spectacle of distress.

Short, thought-provoking, but not especially satisfying.

Reviewed by Rowena Hoseason
Lemon by Kwon Yeo-sun is available at Amazon


Looking for literary crime fiction with wit and grit?


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