How It Feels to Write a Novel: Blowfish by Jo Kyung Ran

  • onOctober 23, 2014
  • Vol.11 Spring 2011
  • byShin Soojeong

Jo Kyung Ran’s fifth novel, Blowfish, is arranged into four parts, in which a total of 67 stories about a female sculptor and a male architect are given in turns. Death is the motif connecting these story fragments together. The woman’s grandmother kills herself by eating poisonous blowfish in front of her husband and child, while the man’s elder brother leaves a phone message saying to come quickly before leaping from the fifth floor of an apartment building. The woman and man cross paths once in Seoul, and meet again in Tokyo.

The narrative loosely approximates a love story. However, for the characters, this is no romantic story in the normal sense. The two become ever closer, but never become one in the end. For the woman, the man is a weigh station on the road to death. For the man, the woman forestalls death and offers him the final chance to believe in the possibility of life. Through the conflicting impressions they have of one another, the characters are able to look back on events leading up to their approaching deaths, and complete their art. It is only desire to create art that calls them back from death.

In the afterward, Jo Kyung Ran states, “The moment I began writing, I looked forward to having written this novel.” The evocation of the artistic flavor of the heterogeneous urban spaces of Seoul and Tokyo, together with the image of the blowfish tempting one towards death, leaves such a strong impression that this novel cannot be compared with others, even within the body of Jo’s own work. Perhaps Jo’s fierce will to write dwells in Blowfish, and animates it: the feeling that every time one is seized by the death drive, one cannot help but write. The lethal taste of blowfish, which one cannot help but eat even though one may die in doing so, approaches the sense of painful deliverance one feels while writing a novel. That is the message Blowfish conveys to us. 

Author's Profile

Jo Kyung Ran made her literary debut in 1996 when her short story “The French Optical” won the Dong-a Ilbo New Writer’s Contest. She is the author of the short story collections Looking for the Elephant (2002) and The Story of a Ladle (2004)I Bought a Balloon (2008), Philosophy of Sunday (2013), and the novels Time for Baking Bread (2001), Tongue (2007), and Blowfish (2010). She is also the recipient of the Hyundae Munhak Award and the Dongin Prize, among others.