Tuesday, 19 January 2021

Book Review: Untold Night and Day by Bae Suah (Contemporary Fiction)

Title: Untold Night and Day
Author: Bae Suah
Publisher: Jonathan Cape
Publication Date: 2020 (2013)
Pages: 152
Format:
Hardback
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Source: Borrowed from the Library

For two years, 28-year-old Kim Ayami has worked at Seoul's only audio theatre for the blind. But Ayami has just been made redundant, and thinking about the future feels like staring into the unknown.

Open to anything, Ayami spends a night in the company of her former boss, searching for a mutual friend who has disappeared, and the following day looking after a visiting poet who turns out to be not what he seems. Walking the streets of the city with each man in turn, Ayami talks about art, love and the inaccessible country to the north. But in the sweltering heat of Seoul at the height of the summer, order gives way to chaos and the edges of reality start to fray, with Ayami becoming an unwitting guide to its increasingly tangled threads.

Seductive, disorienting and wholly original,
Untold Night and Day asks whether more than one version of ourselves can exist at once – and shows why Bae Suah is considered one of the boldest and most original voices in Korean literature today.

 

Untold Day and Night is a surreal read, so much so that, as I type this, I am still wondering how I felt about it and how to write my review. The story centres around Ayami, who has just been made redundant and is wondering what to do; however, the book quickly takes a drastic turn, plunging us into what seem like parallel worlds, highlighted by the repetition of key events and descriptive phrases. I closed the book not entirely sure what I'd just read and yet, at the same time, I loved the dream-like prose and the lyrical flow of the language (which suggested a delicate and careful translation). In conclusion, I would give this book 3.5 stars. I certainly didn't dislike it, but it left me a little baffled. That said, the last two evenings over which I read it, I was very tired, and that may have affected my ability to follow what was going on. A second read, in different circumstances, might well provoke a different response from me, and I would definitely like to check out other works by Bae Suah in the future, to see what they are like.

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