Quirky Reads on Modern Life: Table for One by Yun Ko-eun

  • onOctober 23, 2014
  • Vol.9 Autumn 2010
  • byKang Gyesook
Table for One

Yun Ko-eun has a brilliant imagination that shatters readers' prejudices. This attribute is reflected in the author's first story collection, Table for One. Things that do not exist in real life, whose existence is nevertheless oddly appropriate, appear in this novel as though they are the most natural things. A woman who has a hard time getting along with her co-workers takes “eating alone” classes to overcome the awkwardness in “Table for One.” A lice problem plagues a man who has just returned from vacation abroad in “Sweet Holiday.” He turns himself into a host and sets off on an unending journey to exterminate the lice. An impoverished, budding novelist uses department store bathrooms as her writing studio in “Invader Graphic,” and dreaming on someone else’s behalf as a profession becomes all the rage in “Park Hyeon-mong’s Dream Oracle.” These are all rather odd premises that reflect reality in ways that cannot be dismissed as plain silly.

Exclusion is part of everyday life, contributing to the rising number of people who eat alone. Microorganisms and bugs once believed to be extinct have struck back with a vengeance in large cities, and department store bathrooms do provide customers with some of the most technologically advanced facilities a layperson would find in day-to-day life. Given this, Yun Ko-eun’s literary imagination is far from surreal, but firmly rooted in the unquestionable reality of our world. A slight modification of reality creates a surprising perspective that draws readers’ attention to the things they might have overlooked or taken for granted. The lighthearted stories in this collection depict just how conscious we are of others’ opinions, how the modern person obsesses over little things, and how prioritizing customer service above all else can have unfortunate effects on the poor. The cheery tone belies the keen intellect that delineates the incongruities of the civilized world. 

Author's Profile

Yun Ko-eun was born in Seoul in 1980. Her short story “Piercing” won the 2004 Daesan Literary Award for College Students the year she graduated from university. She received the 2008 Hankyoreh Literature Award for her novel The Zero G Syndrome, the 2011 Lee Hyo-seok Literary Award for her short story “The Hippocampus, Fly,” and the 2015 Kim Yong-ik Novel Prize for her short story collection Aloha. The Disaster Tourist (Serpent’s Tail, 2020) is her first book to be translated into English.