Title: The Hole
Author: Hye-young Pun
In this tense, gripping novel by a rising star of Korean literature, Ogi has woken from a coma after causing a devastating car accident that took his wife’s life and left him paralyzed and badly disfigured. His caretaker is his mother-in-law, a widow grieving the loss of her only child. Ogi is neglected and left alone in his bed.
His world shrinks to the room he lies in and his memories of his troubled relationship with his wife, a sensitive, intelligent woman who found all of her life goals thwarted except for one: cultivating the garden in front of their house. But soon Ogi notices his mother-in-law in the abandoned garden, uprooting what his wife had worked so hard to plant and obsessively digging larger and larger holes. When asked, she answers only that she is finishing what her daughter started.
Evoking Herman Koch’s The Dinner and Stephen King’s Misery, award-winning author Hye-young Pyun’s The Hole is a superbly crafted and deeply unnerving novel about the horrors of isolation and neglect in all of its banal and brutal forms. As Ogi desperately searches for a way to escape, he discovers the difficult truth about his wife and the toll their life together took on her.
Awards: Shirley Jackson Award, Best Novel (2017)
Ogi wakes up from a coma to find himself paralysed, his wife dead, and having to rely on his aged mother-in-law’s care for sustenance. I saw a few reviewers lauding this as a book where a character that loses everything is forced to re-examine his life, but I have a different opinion.
Ogi doesn’t come to any grand realization about his life. In fact, in keeping with the style of Japanese literature, the plot creeps up on you unexpectedly. He ponders on his marriage, family life, work-life, relationships, but, unlike what happens in The Alchemist, he doesn’t roll to a stop and shout “Eureka! I have found the meaning of my life here!”
This book is character-driven and told from the view of Oghi. Japanese literature has a way of making you hold your breath in anticipation of an incredibly intense plot that almost never comes. I felt that same underwhelming sensation while listening to this title.
The narrating was fluid and the narrator did a wonderful job of injecting a sufficient amount of humour into the sparse comedic scenes. It’s not too long either so it can be digested in a day(or two) depending on your schedule.
I recommend this book if you love Japanese literature and are willing to overlook the characteristic dreariness in this genre; you have a thing for vengeful and psychotic mothers-in-law; or you need a good-ol palate cleanser.