Publication: 3 May 2018 from Little, Brown Book Group UK
YOU WAKE UP COVERED IN BLOOD
THERE’S A BODY DOWNSTAIRS
YOUR MOTHER’S BODY
YOU DIDN’T DO IT. DID YOU?
HOW COULD YOU, YOU’VE ALWAYS BEEN THE GOOD SON
When Yu-jin wakes up covered in blood, and finds the body of his mother downstairs, he decides to hide the evidence and pursue the killer himself.
Then young women start disappearing in his South Korean town. Who is he hunting? And why does the answer take him back to his brother and father who lost their lives many years ago.
The Good Son is inspired by a true story.
I have a feeling this is going to be a marmite book. But I’ll put my neck on the line and tell you I loved it. This is predominantly a first person narrative, the archetypal unreliable narrator whose narrative becomes more reliable as we listen to his words and explanations.
When a young man wakes up covered all over with sticky blood and discovers body of his mother, throat slit wide, at the bottom of the stairs, he realises that he can’t remember the night before and so starts to piece together what he thinks must have happened.
On the verge of telephoning the police, he suddenly realises that he will be viewed as the prime suspect – and resolves to take time to work out what really happened before telling anyone of his discovery.
This then is the basis for You-jeong Jeong’s all-consuming novel. This is a book a bit like an Escher drawing, the longer you look into it, the more depth and fascination you get from it until it slowly draws you into the difficult world of Yu-Jin, a 25 year old man who struggles against the constraints of his medication which he is taking to prevent epileptic fits.
Once a promising award winning swimmer, Yu Jin has had to give up that life because of his epilepsy and the concerns his mother had about him following the fate of his father and brother who died some years ago in a drowning accident.
The style of the book is fascinating. The writing is very concise and factual, I supposed this is what I might expect from a Korean novel, but in fact it is a style that hugely works in favour of the story.
As Yu-Jin slowly pulls back the covers and lets us in to unpeel the layers of his life, the reader can feel empathy and sympathy for this young man and his over protective mother, but the longer he tells his story, the more you question whether this version is the one you should be believing. It is to the author’s credit that she is able to build up our empathy and then tear it down with a chilling and suspenseful revelation of the facts behind the memories.
Yu-Jin’s mother has tried to be a good mother to her son; to protect him from the worst of his condition, but in doing so, she has condemned him to a life of medication which stops him from feeling like himself. He describes this as a suffocating existence where he is subject to restrictions that make it impossible for him to truly live his life.
It is only when he discovers his mother’s journal that we begin to see how this good mother has suffered in trying to keep her son away from the world and all its attractions. Behind Yu-Jin’s truths are a whole set of alternative explanations and as the picture of his life reveals itself to us, we begin to understand the awful secrets and the devastating lies that have kept Yu-Jin a prisoner to the truth.
The pace of the book is sometimes quite slow, but lends credibility to the revelations and as the action speeds up, so we come to understand more of the mother’s dilemma.
The stilted nature of the revelations serves to underline the fragmented truths that form Yu-Jin’s memories and we watch with horror and revulsion as the whole story unfolds in a chilling and suspenseful narrative.
This is a different kind of book in a style that I am not accustomed to and that only helped to make it gripping and utterly compelling.
There’s a lot to think about in this sad and sometimes horribly humorous story, but I could not put it down until I knew the whole desperate story.
About You -jeong Jeong
You-jeong Jeong was born in Hampyeong, South Korea. She initially trained and worked as a nurse. She is now South Korea’s leading writer of psychological crime and thriller fiction and is often compared to Stephen King and Raymond Chandler. You-jeong is the author of four novels including Seven Years of Darkness, which was named one of the top ten crime novels of 2015 by the German newspaper Die Zeit. Her work has been translated into Chinese, Japanese, French, German, Thai and Vietnamese. The Good Son is the first of her books to be translated into English.