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the shrew review
To Cook a Bear
by Mikael Niemi
the shrew review
Untold Night and Day
by Bae Suah
Bae Suah’s surreal and disorientating novel was originally published in South Korea in 2013, and is her first work to be published in the UK, released in paperback at the beginning of 2021. Untold Night and Day is an incredible entrance into the world of translated Korean fiction, reading like a fever dream set in the stifling heat of Seoul in mid-summer, with a non-linear narrative that seems to move in loops and cycles, frequently returning to striking images and themes while totally destabilising the reader, warping time and shunning character anchors.
We follow Ayami as she finishes her final shift at a theatre for the blind, and searches for a missing friend with her former boss, followed by a day chaperoning a supposed poet. It’s a hard novel to summarise, as any plot thread shifts and changes shape as soon as it seems to have become clear, with the centre of the novel being expressed through an overwhelming sense of transience - nothing is fixed, and Ayami herself appears as a palimpsest, being born as one character and growing as another, living as a woman from the past and as herself in the present. An elderly poet remarks on the changes that he has witnessed, never believing that he would live so long. The theatre for the blind transitions into a gallery seemingly overnight, with everything it contained disappearing within the blink of an eye. Seoul itself is plunged into darkness, in a blackout that dominates many of the meetings within the story and begins to disorientate not only the reader, but the characters themselves.
It really is a fascinating novel, and at a swift 150 pages it mirrors the experience of a passing dream, of the kind that lingers with the dreamer for days afterwards. When describing it to friends I’ve compared it to reading Hiromi Kawakami’s Strange Weather in Tokyo reinterpreted by David Lynch, snapshotting relationships that are deeply moving, but transforming them into a series of hypnotic and bewildering moments. You may never be at ease during Bae Suah’s novel, but it will enliven your sense of your surroundings and the people who drift in and out of your life, and it will graft itself onto your unconscious for a long time after turning the final page.