Tantalising psychological drama

Book: The Good Son

Author: You-Jeong Jeong (Transl. Chi-Young Kim)

Publisher: Bluebird

Pages: 309; Price: Rs 499

You-Jeong Jeong’s first English translation, The Good Son, makes a welcome splash in a market where works ranging from Gillian Flynn’s 2012 bestseller Gone Girl to The Girl on the Train (2015) have come into vogue. This Korean mystery novel stands out as both family drama and psychological thriller, as readers are jolted to life just as suddenly as Yu-jin wakes up to find himself drenched in blood, with his mother’s body lying in the kitchen.

As a troubled former athlete who suffers from hallucinations and seizures, Yu-jin finds that the race for answers involves an investigation not only of the scene of the crime, but of his entire past, his family relationships and his struggles with his mental health, that has led him to this day. As readers navigate the winding path through his broken mind, we meet Hae-jin — Yu-jin’s best friend turned adoptive brother, and Yu-min — Yu -jin’s older brother, who perished in an accident years ago. The past, however, is ripe material for the present in The Good Son.

The book, beneath its expert account of the perfect murder, is fundamentally a novel about the root of evil within the human soul. Jeong deftly weaves the portrait of a family disturbed at its very core in order to approach the instability of the mind of its prodigal son. The premise of the novel is not unknown — a character stumbles on to the scene of a gruesome crime scene with no memory of the past few hours — but Jeong adapts it to her needs.

The structure of the novel, much like the mind of Yu-jin, is fragmentary, impenetrable, and at times, surreal; while the first part of the novel takes its time setting the scene of the murder, the second half allows readers to start to build a much larger, terrifying picture of how brothers fall apart and how mothers meet their end.

Nevertheless, the joys of the novel lie in the small, seemingly insignificant episodes that Yu-jin recalls, from movies to swim meets, to lost encounters — meaningless in themselves, and yet indicative of all the red flags from the very beginning. More than a generic addition to the mystery/thriller shelf, The Good Son is overall an exercise in excellent storytelling.