Close
FICTION

A Feast of Voices: North Living Room by Bae Suah

  • onOctober 20, 2014
  • Vol.7 Spring 2010
  • byLee Kyungjae
North Living Room
2009
287pp.

Bae Suah, one of Korea’s most innovative writers, has departed from the tradition of mainstream literature and created her own literary world based on a unique style and knack for psychological description.

The author’s particular style is taken to the next level with North Living Room, which guides the reader into a fantastic dream world. None of the basic elements of the novel such narrative point of view, time, and character, are observed. This work is a novel that betrays the novel. Not that Bae Suah is the first person to do this. Bakhtin long ago defined the novel as “a type of literature that has no unique form of its own.” Bae’s North Living Room is a novel only after it is words and sentences, and ultimately a voice.

“Why can’t we exist only as a voice?” asks the female protagonist Suni, a question fit to be directed towards Bae’s very novel itself. Lists of all kinds of sounds are repeated obsessively. They are voices that vanish the instant they are spoken and recorded. They are not sounds that can be attributed to one single owner.

These voices are the most primordial and fundamental horizon of the world and life as imagined by Bae Suah. What we call language or novels are merely the sorry remains of these voices tainted by the dregs of history and society. Bae’s voice, on the other hand, is a voice that erases itself, a voice that vanishes, defying any attempt at bestowing interpretation or authority upon it. To force any kind of f ixed representation or meaning upon her work is an act of unspeakable oppression for Bae Suah. Therefore these voices free of any sort of representation or meaning can only exist as auditory stimulation like the sound of wild birds in the woods or the sound of wind on a lake. Only this voice can be a small seed of consolation, as it was to one woman. The way to truly enjoy Bae Suah’s North Living Room is to read it aloud.