Oghi is just waking from a coma – the result of a car accident that took his wife’s life. Oghi is paralyzed and disfigured and he is left alone in his bed with nothing to do but remember and reflect on his life. He thinks often of his wife and realizes that she was never able to realize any of her goals, except for one – her garden in front of their home.
One day Oghi notices that his mother-in-law is in the front yard, digging up his wife’s garden and digging larger and larger holes. When Oghi tries to question his mother-in-law about it, she only answers obliquely that that she is finishing what her daughter started.
With nothing to do but reflect, Oghi imagines the worst possibilities and terror takes over.
I love psychological horror. The mind can often go to darker places than any story and that’s what happens both to Oghi and to the reader of this book. Not knowing what is happening is far darker and more terrifying to Oghi.
I’ve seen this book often compared to Stephen King’s Misery, but I liken it more to Kafka’s The Trial or any of Shirley Jackson’s novels. And yet …
I wasn’t a big fan of this book.
For such a short book – easily read in a weekend – there isn’t much build up. We’re pretty much dumped into the rising action of the story so our characters are generally anonymous or at least distant for the reader. Our focal character seems to be unreliable and yet we only have his reactions.
That psychological terror is strong, and the mother-in-law, being somewhat vague, is actually of much interest, and in this sense the book works. But as a novel, a full-length story of horror or madness, I wasn’t enamored. This shouldn’t be much of a surprise to regular readers of my reviews – I find the need to identify with a character to really care about a story (that identity with a character can always be a negative one if the desire is to enjoy watching the character descend into madness) and I didn’t get that here.
I do like reading books from different countries and getting a different cultural look at something and this book might be my first Korean fiction (translated, of course) that I’ve read. The shades of Kafka and Lovecraft are fun to identify, but not great enough to elicit a strong recommendation.
-late edit –
After writing this I read through a couple of Goodreads reviews and I found one comment particularly interesting: “a transliteration of the English word “hole,” 홀 (hol) is a Korean prefix meaning “alone” and most readily refers to one who is widowed.”
For me, this puts an interesting twist on the story and I wish I had known that aheda of time. I’m not sure it would have made a difference, but I might have looked at Oghi as ‘the hole’.
Looking for a good book? The Hole, by Hye-Young Pyun is Korean psychological horror. Only true, devout fans of psychological horror are likely to really enjoy this book as it calls up memories of Lovecraft in the slow-moving method of madness.
I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher, through Edelweiss, in exchange for an honest review.
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author: Hye-Young Pyun
translator: Sora Kim-Russell
hardcover, 137 pages