Love in the Big City by Sang Young Park

What I love about Love in the Big City is just how much personality it has. The narrative voice comes through so strongly in this novel, and you can tell that almost immediately. This is not a story where you can really separate plot from character, because every element of Love in the Big City is suffused with the personality of its narrator. And that’s really the beginning and end of it when it comes to this book: whether you enjoy Love in the Big City or not is going to hinge on how well you get along with that narrator and their voice. Young is deeply flawed, as all good characters are, and this novel offers a space for him to grapple with those flaws and the ways they are sometimes amplified and sometimes highlighted by the circumstances of his life and the relationships he forms, and dissolves. And those relationships are so important because they form the scaffolding of Love in the Big City: each of this novel’s chapters focuses on a relationship, whether platonic or romantic, fleeting or lasting. I found it a really compelling way to structure a story, especially because it brings to light the many ways in which we understand our relationship to ourselves through our relationship with others.

Make no mistake, though: this is not a self-serious novel. Part of what makes it so enjoyable is that it doesn’t always take itself seriously. Young is an often sarcastic and snarky narrator, not afraid to trivialize or make fun of the things he should, presumably, approach with gravity. This is what makes him such a fun character, but also such a flawed one. His flippancy is what allows him to survive his circumstances, but also what holds him back from confronting them and, by extension, growing.

I really enjoyed this novel, if you couldn’t tell, and I can’t wait to see more of Sang Young Park’s work get translated into English.

Thanks so much to Grove Press for providing me with an e-ARC of this in exchange for an honest review!

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Catch the Rabbit — Restless Books

I feel like every good thing I have to say about this book comes with a caveat.

First, Lana Bastašić can write. Her similes are just impeccable; they pack a punch–this is a good thing, but also a bad thing, because I feel like Bastašić’s descriptive writing is almost exclusively reliant on similes. If Bastašić wants to describe something, it’s always “X is like Y” or “X does Y as though it’s Z.” And that’s pretty much the extent of what you get in terms of formal variety in this book. As much as I loved the similes, they started to get old very quickly, especially when you start to notice three or four consecutive ones on the same page.

Second, I thought the character exploration in Catch the Rabbit was fascinating. Being inside Sara’s head was unsettling, especially as she’s the kind of character who fixates on everything where her friend Lejla is concerned. And “friend” is a very fraught term in this novel; Sara and Lejla’s relationship is far from clear-cut or uncomplicated. And to a certain extent, I liked that; I liked that you couldn’t ever really put a finger on what was happening between Sara and Lejla, on the kind of friendship that they had, or indeed if what existed between them could even be called a “friendship.”

What I didn’t like, though–and here’s that caveat–is that all this character exploration skewed a bit melodramatic. At a certain point, every moment in Catch the Rabbit started to feel like a Moment, and it grated on me. I don’t mind symbolism–what is fiction about if not things symbolizing other things–but when everything in your novel is Symbolic–when every event becomes imbued with monumental importance–the narrative ends up feeling incredibly bloated and frankly, exhausting. I love symbolic moments and all, and they suit given that Sara, the narrator, is writing this story down retrospectively, and so is liable to embellish and give meaning to events that might not have otherwise meant a lot, but Bastašić just took it too far. It got to a point where I couldn’t parse out what these characters were actually feeling beyond the overwhelming cloud of Literary Significance that crowded every single moment.

So all in all, a mixed bag.

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One Hundred Shadows

So then what happens?
The parents of the boy Mujae probably get into
Or inevitably, you could say.
How is it inevitable to get into debt?
Is it possible to live otherwise?

A chilling story told in spare, incisive writing, One Hundred Shadows is the kind of novel that begs to be deciphered but that is not itself easy to decipher; a compact story that comes with an undertow of darkness, one that Jungeun draws out in her measured and skillfully controlled way. I love novels like this, novels that feel discombobulating and slightly off-kilter. They initially read as weird, but then their weirdness unsettles you, asks you to try to put your finger on what’s so unsettling to begin with. I just know I’ll be mulling over this potent little book for the next few weeks, trying to unravel the world that Hwang Jungeun has so deftly created here.

Addendum: I initially gave this novel 4 stars, but then I just couldn’t stop thinking about it, so I bumped it up to 5 stars. Hwang Jungeun’s writing is just haunting in the best way possible.

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