Review: One Hundred Shadows – Hwang Jungeun

004 - one hundred shadows

004 - one hundred shadows

★★

This book first came on to my radar around 18 months ago, and was the book that introduced me to Tilted Axis Press – a publishing house, founded by Deborah Smith who rose to notoriety translating Han Kang’s works (which went on to win prize after prize). Tilted Axis focus on translated works, especially those which otherwise may not have otherwise made it to the English market. While I’ve now read a handful of books from Tilted Axis, I’d yet to read the one which brought the publisher to my attention and once again in the mood to read a book in one sitting this little 150 page book was top of the pile.

Describing this story is difficult because, honestly, I don’t really know what went on in it. The story takes place in a run down area of Seoul and follows two young people; Eungyo and Mujae. They both work in shops in the district which are at risk of being shut down as the area is described as ‘a slum’. These two characters bond over their mutual situation, and their relationship develops over the course of the 150 pages. There is also the aspect of Shadows and their power over an individual – I wish there was more focus on this aspect of the book because I think if this had gone further in to magical realism I would have enjoyed it a lot more. A lot is left to the imagination and I did feel that my brain was constantly playing catch up to try and pick up threads.

The description of the book is “off beat” but I don’t quite think that covers the confusion I felt. Rather than off beat I think it was completely lost. The writing (and the translation) were beautiful but the actual plot left me confused and a little cold. I didn’t feel any particular connection to the characters, and while I read it in one sitting I did find myself distracted easily and never completely immersed.

The author has another book which has recently been published by Tilted Axis, and I will check that out because I did like the style of writing. I hate to judge an author on one book (unless the book is actually awful, which this wasn’t, it just wasn’t entirely my cup of tea and that’s fine).

Ultimately this was a 2 star read for me – I liked it, but it isn’t a book which blew me away, nor is it one I think will stay with me in any way long term. But it’s an author I’m interested by, and I do intend to look at buying her other book in English.

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