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FICTION

The Skeptic’s Guide to Life: Beauty Despises Me by Eun Heekyung

  • onOctober 20, 2014
  • Vol.1 Autumn 2008
  • byJung Yeo-ul
Beauty Despises Me
2008
228pp.

Key pillars that bolster Eun Heekyung’s novels are cynicism and half-hearted maliciousness. Her books are perhaps the most cynical among the Korean novels written in the 1990s. For Eun, all ideologies seem suspicious. The Gift of the Bird, for instance, is a chronicle of a 12-year-old girl who constantly suspects everything around her life. “Preposterous and petty coincidences dominate our life. Therefore, don’t bother to find the truth. After all, life is a joke.”

But the writer’s intense suspicion and cynicism, strangely, results in a beautiful literary landscape. This explains why Eun’s writing style is considered one of the finest among her peers in the 1990s. Her novels depict a “world of at once extreme suspicion and beauty,” and “the acknowledgement of the hateful but inevitable fate.”

Eun demonstrates a dramatically softened – and warmer – voice in Beauty Despises Me. Critic Shin Hyoung Cheol says, “Eun Hee-kyung’s earlier writing had razor blades that could cut you several times, though the pain must have been bearable. But her new stories come with a tricky knife that doesn’t look or feel like a knife, so you don’t realize you are suffering a deep wound until it’s too late.”

Unlike her previous characters who were deeply skeptical about the necessity for direction in life, her new collection of stories introduces a new type of character yearning for a “map” or “guidepost” in their troubled lives. Beauty Despises Me, however, is not about discovering maps; it is about characters’ journeys to find them. They eventually realize that there is no such map.

But it is too early to despair. By embracing life without the correct answers, one can lead a life that will be more beautiful, which is Eun’s new message. 

Author's Profile

Eun Heekyung has won several literary awards such as the Munhakdongne Novel Award, the Yi Sang Literary Award, and the Dongin Literary Award. The French edition of My Wife’s Boxes (Les Boîtes de ma femme) was published by Zulma. Her works have appeared in German, Spanish, Russian, Chinese, and Japanese. She also participated in the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa.