Guardian suggests Korean thrillers are the new Scandi Noir

by Philip Gowman on 5 March, 2018 updated 13 June, 2018

in General book news | Korean literature in translation

Two Korean Thrillers

It was not long ago that people were lamenting the absence of Korean genre fiction – such as crime and mystery stories – in translation. Well, apparently, things are changing. An article in Saturday’s Guardian talks about a “wave of interest in Korean thrillers” – highlighting the six-figure sum which bought Doubleday the right to publish Kim Un-su’s The Plotters (tr Sora Kim-Russell) in the US (though it would appear to be getting an earlier release in Australia via Melbourne’s Text Publishing).

Another Korean thriller coming out this year is Jeong You-jeong’s third novel (though the first to be translated into English), The Good Son (tr Kim Chi-young, coming to the UK in early May). This scenario sounds promising, about a model student who investigates a murder in which he is the chief suspect. “A character and plot as addictive and twisted as American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis, Misery by Stephen King and A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess,” say the publishers.

Coming some time later is Lee Jung-myung’s The Gospel of the Murderer (tr Kim Chi-young). The latter has the least interest for me, being set in first-century Judaea (and I wasn’t particularly enthusiastic about his first novel to be translated into English, The Investigation). But this is Lee’s third book to be translated into English, so he is clearly reaching an audience.

All three authors are represented by the Barbara J Zitwer Agency – who also represents Han Kang, Shin Kyung-sook and Pyun Hye-young. In fact, one of the most frustrating things about the Guardian article is that it draws one’s attention to the list of Korean authors represented by Zitwer many of whom are still awaiting their first English translation, including Seo Miae. Seo’s novel The Good Girl, “about an adorable little girl who is a serial killer” caught her attention in 2012, much to the puzzlement of the Korean publishing industry.

We know the Japanese can do a good thriller, and I look forward to trying out at least the first two books mentioned above. But somehow I’m looking forward to the upcoming Hwang Sok-yong and Pyun Hye-young titles more.

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