Testing the Rules of the Game: Mr. Monorail By Kim Junghyuk

  • onOctober 23, 2014
  • Vol.14 Winter 2011
  • byYi Soo-hyung
Mr. Monorail

Kim Junghyuk’s novel, Mr. Monorail, reads like a board game in narrative form. A board game inventor named Mono, creator of a wildly successful game called Hello, Monorail that takes players on an adventure around 50 European cities by train, plans a three-month trip around Europe to research his next train adventure game. But when he arrives at a train station in Rome, he finds himself mixed up in a case like a character in his game. During Mono’s quest to find Ko Gapsu, a man on the run somewhere in Europe after being associated with a cult called the Balls Movement, he meets friends from Europe and Seoul who bear a striking resemblance to the characters in Hello, Monorail:

“On their trip to the train station, Mono felt as though the characters from Hello, Monorail had come to life. The five characters he’d come up with were complete inventions, but here they were now in the flesh. Red was just like Red from the game, Ko Uin was like Pink the hairdresser, Luka the brain was like Detective Blue, and Ko Uchang who was running from Mono and Ko Uin was like Black the bank robber. Mono was the creator of Hello, Monorail, so he was like White the novelist. Observing the characters that came to life, Mono furtively smiled to himself.”

Can Mono and his friends clear the train adventure game that goes through Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, France, and the U.K.? This is a question without an easy answer. Mister Monorail appears to follow the rules of a board game, but in its undercurrent is the question, “What is life?” Well, what is it? For starters, it is similar to a board game. Mono was introduced to board games at an early age, thanks to his parents who were board game geeks. As Mono lost game after game, he realized that he would do much better if there were no rules he had to follow. His father explained, “It is impossible to play the game without following rules because without them there will be too many variables. A game is not about seeing who’s best at carrying out a certain task, but being the last man standing in a limited environment.”

So are there rules in life? Isn’t life full of inexplicable coincidences and exceptions that cannot be neatly organized into rules? If so, life is a game, but none we can survive by sticking to all the rules. The success of Hello, Monorail, was in fact thanks to the greater variables and possibilities that set it apart from other board games. The Balls Movement, on the other hand, bewitches followers with a forged scripture and prophetic writings that preach unfounded false rules and theories. Why are people willing to commit themselves to ridiculous rules? Perhaps because all the coincidences and exceptions people face in life generate anxiety rather than fill people with the hope of possibilities. Exceptions are fun in board games, but burdensome in real life. Mr. Monorail thus poses a serious question through a light adventure narrative. 

Author's Profile

Kim Junghyuk is a writer, film critic, music columnist, and cartoonist. He has received the Dongin Literary Award and Lee Hyo-seok Literary Award. French editions of his books include Your Shadow Is a Monday (Les ombres du lundi), Zombies (Zombies, la descente aux enfers), Wandering Bus (Bus errant), and The Library of Musical Instruments (La bibliothèque des instruments de musique) published by Decrescenzo éditeurs. English editions of his books include The Library of Musical Instruments published by Dalkey Archive Press.