Standing on the Precipice of Hell: Evening Courtship by Pyun Hye-Young

  • onOctober 23, 2014
  • Vol.12 Summer 2011
  • byKim Hyoung-joong
Evening Courtship

Reading Pyun Hye-Young’s work has always challenged readers, beginning with her first short story collection, AOI Garden. The reader is shocked awake by the corpses, muck, and stinking reservoirs with which the stories are filled. These things evoke a horror of the time when nature violates its designated boundary and intrudes on civilization. With the publication of her second story collection, Heading for a Breeding Farm, and her first full-length novel, Ashes and Red, Pyun demonstrates a change in literary direction.

What comes of this change is the new story collection, Evening Courtship. The abject images that appeared repeatedly in her early work are nowhere to be found here. The hardboiled imagination and the aesthetics of the grotesque no longer seem to interest her. Ironically, however, the stories are all the more terrible and discomfiting. The dry prose style, forbidding all sentiment, are a mimetic reflection of sterile modern civilization at the level of form. And the author’s view, which was focused on nature’s overflow, has expanded now to reach the interior of urban civilization. The entire modern world we live in becomes a maze, becomes confusion itself as identity and difference are extinguished. There is nothing to look forward to, nothing that will improve in a nightmarish world governed by the eternal uniformity of space and time.

Maybe it would it be insulting Kafka to say that Pyun is the Korean Kafka. However, maybe it would also be insulting Pyun to say that the urban Korean landscape she portrays is any less dreadful than the allegory of modern civilization found in Kafka’s The Castle. Korean city-dwellers are not familiar with life, to the extent that for them, life means rising at the same time, heading off to the same workplace in the same manner, eating the same lunch, finishing the same daily routine at the same time, and retiring to bed at the same hour. Pyun is unrivalled in capturing the hellishness of this uniformity. Of the current young Korean writers, Pyun Hye-Young is the most intimate with hell. 

Author's Profile

Pyun Hye-Young is an assistant professor of creative writing at Myongji University. She has received the Hyundae Literary Award, Yi Sang Literary Award, and Dongin Literary Award. The French edition of Aoi Garden (Dans l’antre d’Aoï Garden) was published by Decrescenzo éditeurs and Ashes and Red (Cendres et rouge) by Philippe Picquier. The Hole and Ashes and Red are forthcoming from Arcade Publishing in 2017.