I have perhaps spent too long thinking on this book, but I have been struggling with how to approach it--with, even, my own thoughts on it in general. I know I have mentioned before that I am not necessarily a fan of contemporary fiction, be it Korean or otherwise; in order to enjoy it, I feel that a contemporary work must lack a certain feeling of pretentiousness. It seems as though so many contemporary authors know that they are doing something "different," and want to be praised for that difference; they are perhaps certain that they will "blow your mind." It's as though they panhandle to the sort of twenty-something that claims to have "really understood Lolita," or dismiss other works due to the popularity of the author, as opposed to the content or general worth of the work. It's a sort of falsehood that I've seen everywhere in post-college individuals, and it's rather grating. It's as though authors are writing for shock value, and the readers are eating it up. I feel as though it's a great fault of mine that I've become so judgmental of contemporary fiction, and yet I can't help but indulge the mental rolling of my eyes that seems to occur any time some author finds a new, "artistic" way to describe sex.
Good contemporary fiction, however, is as wonderful as it is rare. An author that can shine through and depict his/her story in an honest and genuinely creative way is a true artist, and I'm happy to see that they are still around. I just wish that there were more of them.
That, I suppose, sums up my view on contemporary fiction.
And now for I Have the Right to Destroy Myself by Young-ha Kim. The book follows a rather omniscient narrator though a dream-like Seoul as he navigates through the tangled lives of those who don't wish to live anymore, and those that surround them. He's a sort of dark mercy angel, never encouraging individuals to kill themselves, but aiding them when they do. He makes no claims on honesty, believing that fiction holds more merit than fact, so the reader has no guarantee that what he says is true. This effect, as well as his tone and the author's brilliant writing style, gives the book a mystical feeling, a sort of disconnect that remains whether the narrator focuses on his own life or the lives of two brothers and the woman they share in common.
Even after all of my thinking, I do not know quite what to say about this book. I fall back and forth from declaring it to be pretentious beyond a doubt to believing it to be honestly compelling. I think, however, that I can at last "assign" it a verdict.
I think that it is a very individual work that exists apart from the contemporary pretension that is rife on the markets. The book is indeed packed with shock value, existentialism, and other recipes for obtaining a modern audience, but I don't get the same sense of falseness from this work that I get from so many others. It feels genuine.
What lead me to this conclusion is the simple fact that I thought about the book for so long. It wasn't easy to approach; I rehashed the plot, characters, and writing style (which was brilliant in the English translation, and probably more so in Korean) constantly in my mind. The fact that the book kept me hooked for so long after I had read it leads me to believe that it was genuine in every respect.
My next step? I plan on reading Kim's other novels, as well as getting a hold of the original Korean texts. I want to gain what ever what lost in translation, and see where that takes me.