Sunday 6 August 2023

Book Review: Violets by Shin Kyung-sook (Contemporary Fiction)

Title: Violets
Author: Shin Kyung-sook
Publisher: Weidenfeld & Nicolson
Publication Date: 2022 (2001)
Pages: 212
Format: Hardback
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Source: Borrowed from the Library
We join San in 1970s rural South Korea, a young girl ostracised from her community. She meets a girl called Namae, and they become friends until one afternoon changes everything. Following a moment of physical intimacy in a minari field, Namae violently rejects San, setting her on a troubling path of quashed desire and isolation.

We next meet San, aged twenty-two, as she starts a job in a flower shop. There, we are introduced to a colourful cast of characters, including the shop's mute owner, the other florist Su-ae, and the customers that include a sexually aggressive businessman and a photographer, who San develops an obsession for. Throughout, San's moment with Namae lingers in the back of her mind.

A story of desire and violence about a young woman who everyone forgot, VIOLETS is a captivating and sensual read, full of tragedy and beauty.


There is a lot of symbolism in Violets, especially in relation to the titular flower. It is a slow-moving story, which gives it, at times, a dream-like quality in stark contrast to the bleak narrative. The prose is utterly beautiful and descriptive, really setting an emotive scene in every moment. It is not an uplifting story by any means, but it is a thoughtful one that focuses on those without a voice as they struggle to be understood, even by themselves. It's definitely a piece that will stay with me. However, I think the slow speed of the narrative might put off some readers. Still, it's absolutely worth a read if you enjoy contemporary fiction with LGBT content and don't mind not getting a 'happy ending'. Overall, I am giving it 4.5 stars.

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