1. Korean Novelist
If there is a writer like Steven King in Korea, who could it be? The border of pure literature between genre literature is a longstanding glass floor in Korean literature. While pure literature is preserved by a traditional cultivating system in the literary world and the press, genre literature has numerous readers and branches through various platforms. It is one of the Korean literature’s traits to call it ‘genre literature’ officially but attach a nickname ‘narratives for the public’ to it. In this world divided into two Jeong You-jeong is such a specific writer. In respect that she started her writing career by winning a prize she is classified into the pure literature group but she is different from the group in respect that she is pioneering as a novelist in her own ways.
Jeong You-jeong’s novels are so contemporary. Popularity can be comprehended by contemporaneity. Jeong You-jeong tells a story that is the most necessary right here, right now. Seven Years of Darkness making Jeong You-jeong what she is has the story and the next work 28 does, too. The world Jeong You-jeong described was obviously a fictitious space a little different from the reality of this place but was this place, and obviously a created space from the murderous scene of splattered blood and flesh to the calamity of zoonosis but was so true to life. The fictitious world Jeong You-jeong created is basically a mirror image of reality.
Above all things Jeong You-jeong writes a novel.
To keep writing novels regularly pacing oneself in the short story-oriented Korean literary field is more valuable than the phenomenon itself. If there is a writer who repeatedly fictionalizes the contemporary problems overcoming the pressure of expectations and keeping the promises made with readers with novels, the writer must be Jeong You-jeong. That sensitive respiration and selection earn the readers’ choices and inspire vitality to the dulled narrative world. Jeong You-jeong’s novels are, so to say, rhythmical and interesting. The world Jeong You-jeong deals with is a fictitious space not existing, not yet coming but it is present and contemporary.
2. Jeong You-jeong’s Technology of Novels
The most attractive point of Jeong You-jeong’s novels is just speediness. Sentences draw readers to a fictitious world by speedy respiration as if running. We may find this sort of trait still in a new novel Perfect Happiness published in 2021 as it was. Short sentences diffuse tensions as if following one after another succeedingly and in that diffused tension a space of concrete images come up. It is the reason why Jeong You-jeong’s novels are movie-like. They supply short, simple and obvious visual image.
And another attractive point is just making use of various viewpoints. In Seven Years of Darkness various characters bring tensions between truth and lies, tensions between scene and the scene behind with stories of their own view points, so do the characters in the world of 28, The Origin of Species and Jin-I, Jinny. They describe the world in different points of view as if receiving a baton. The world designed and formed by different narrators of different viewpoints cannot but be multilayered. Jeong You-jeong, as a writer, provides an air view of the world writer Jeong You-jeong sees by rearranging these various contradictory narratives. By cool but clear images.
In Perfect Happiness, she deals with a horrible female murderer who appeared in 2020. Jeong You-jeong does not focus on the sensationalism of murder or ethical judgment. What Jeong You-jeong focuses on (and she does so dryly) is probability dwelling in the characters whose names seem likely to appear in a detective note. She follows the heart and psychology of the characters stuffed in their names, not simply the names on a tree diagram.
The reason why the story begins from Ji-you, a daughter who does not have much understanding on the world so cannot but experience it indirectly through the eyes of her parents. Ji-you is a child and on the other hand she is a daughter of the murderer. Ji-you cannot but learn to know the world through the distorted eyes of her mother. Mother’s laws are her children’s laws. Mother You-na reproduced through Ji-you’s eyes is not different from the image of cruel stepmother in a fairytale.
You-na changes as the people around her switch: You-na her second husband knows, You-na her elder sister knows, You-na her father knows, all are different. The features of neighbors around us change from the people we know to the extent of abyss we cannot fathom. For such three-dimensional moldings writer Jeong You-jeong make use of various viewpoints and narrators. Writer Jeong You-jeong might not easily expose her omniscient narrator position.
What is reached through various narrators is a riddle, that is, human being in the end. After The Origin of Species, Jeong You-jeong indeed pays attention to evil deeds rather than good deeds. Evil is embodied by man’s action. Jeong You-jeong looks into men, researches the origin of evil and reorganizes it. Also evil is, to Jeong You-jeong, a pathway to understand human being most deeply as it is.
The thing is that the evil world Jeong You-jeong describes transforms gradually from fiction to reality, from probable imagination to realistic reproducing. An evil man who can be seen in a novel or movies appears in the contemporary news. Maybe just the evil reproduced in her novel might be the past we already have understood and conquered.
We struggle to understand the evil existing, not the evil imagined. It is so ironical Jeong You-jeong’s novels are one of those struggles. Human being thrives to understand things completely. There is no way to deny Jeong You-jeong’s proposal that evil is the surest way to understand humanity. The reason why writer Jeong You-jeong cannot help but continue researching the evil basically lies here in our reality.
Kang You-jeong graduated from Korea University graduate school majoring in Korean Literature; won literary prizes of The Chosun Ilbo, Kyunghyang Shinmun, The Dong-a Ilbo in 2005; wrote Lectures on Writing Movie Script, Suffer from Others and so on; working as professor of Korean English Culture Contents Department in Kangnam University.
Translated by Park Eun-sun
* 《Cultura》 2021 December (Vol. 90) *