Fiction – paperback; Hachette Australia; 309 pages; 2018. Translated from the Korean by Chi-Young Kim.
The smell of blood woke me up.
So begin’s You-Jeong Jeong’s The Good Son, a locked room mystery that morphs into something much more dark and sinister.
It tells the story of a 25-year-old man who wakes up to discover his mother dead on the kitchen floor, a deep wound in her neck and blood everywhere, including on his own hands and clothes. But did he kill her? He has no memory of the night before because he has stopped taking his epilepsy medication and that often results in massive headaches and blackouts. There is no sign of forced entry, so if he didn’t kill her, who did?
Structured in four parts, all narrated by the son, the story charts Yu-Jin’s life living under a semi-lockdown with an over-protective mother. As the narrative progresses it gets increasingly more unhinged and abhorrent. I do, in fact, wonder why I bothered to read it. But it did have some good points:
I liked the ever-changing nature of the story. As soon as I thought I knew what was going on and why Yu-Jin behaved in a certain way, the author would throw in a new bit of information that made me reassess all that had gone before. I can’t explain it very well here because that would spoil the plot, but you cannot second-guess anything in this novel. And it’s that kind of unpredictability that is probably why I kept turning the pages.
It’s a good depiction of an unhinged mind. Think Francie in The Butcher Boy or Joy Stone in The Trick is to Keep Breathing. This is reflected in a narrative voice that gets increasingly more disturbing as the story moves forward.
The use of flashbacks is done well to show how Yu-Jin’s relationships — with his mother, his late brother, his adopted brother and his aunt — shaped him. I liked the way these also fleshed out the kind of child he was, introverted and insecure, but how his great talent for swimming took him out of himself and gave him confidence.
It has a satisfying ending, albeit one that makes you grateful the story is not real life.
Yet, for all that, there’s no denying The Good Son is gruesome and bloody and repugnant in places. It is definitely not one for the squeamish. It takes a lot to shock me, but I found this book a little too much to handle. Read it with caution.
This is my 12th book for #TBR2020 in which I plan to read 20 books from my TBR between 1 January and 30 June. I bought it last year from the Dymocks $10 table, attracted by the marketing blurb on the front cover declaring it as a “Number One International Bestseller”.