From Publishers Weekly
Korean novelist Kim's tantalizing 1996 debut novel concerns a calculating, urbane young man who makes a business of helping his clients commit suicide. The narrator's favorite painting, Jacques-Louis David's The Death of Marat
, encapsulates his outlook—to be detached and cold, an approach reflected in his account of a recent client who was romantically involved with two brothers (called C and K). The woman, Se-yeon, is a young, spacey, lollipop-sucking drifter who first hangs out with K before bedding C. Cab-driver K and video artist C become obsessed with Se-Yeon, who looks (to them) like Gustave Klimt's Judith
. Judith, as they subsequently refer to her, later wanders off into a snowstorm, never to be seen by the brothers again. However, in this eerie, elliptical narrative, Judith reappears as the narrator's client. Moreover, Judith morphs into other objects of desire, such as a woman from Hong Kong the narrator meets in Vienna and an elusive performance artist named Mimi whom C films. Kim's work is a self-conscious literary exploration of truth, death, desire and identity, and though it traffics in racy themes, it never devolves into base voyeurism. (July)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Kim's first novel reeks of 1990s South Korea, whose rising generation was the first to enjoy the freedoms and the attendant anomie of a wealthy society. There are three male and three female protagonists. The men are the narrator and brothers C, a video artist, and K, a taxi driver. The women are Judith (so-called by C, after the biblical heroine as painted by Gustav Klimt), whom K beds first (in C's apartment) but loses to C; a woman the narrator meets in Vienna; and performance artist Mimi, averse to cinematic media but willing to have C tape her. It is eventually disclosed that Judith and Mimi are clients of the narrator, who writes novels, perhaps including this one, but maintains a sideline in promotive rather than preventive suicide counseling. As bleak, chilling, and economically written as Stephen Crane's 1890s classics Maggie and George's Mother, though with characters miles up the economic scale from Crane's, Kim's deadpan, elliptical story is even more like the enigmatic love (?) stories of Taiwanese filmmaker Tsai Ming-liang, whose work must be watched as raptly as Kim's must be read. Mesmerizing. Olson, Ray