The blurb is enough to pull you into South Korean writer You Jeong Jeong’s psychological thriller The Good Son. Chillingly described as a “psychopath’s coming of age”, the story begins with 26-year-old Yu-jin waking up covered in blood and finding his mother’s body downstairs, with her throat slit. As he decides to dial the authorities, he realises the needle of suspicion points to him. He tries to piece together the events of the previous night, including missing fragments from his memory, clouded by his “epilepsy” medication or lack of it. It doesn’t take long for him to wonder if the killer lurks within him.
As you go down the rabbit hole, turning the dark pages of his mind and his mother’s journal, which takes us from his childhood to adulthood as he stands at the threshold of law school, we come face to face with his “true nature”.
This is not a conventional whodunit, as it’s clear where the clues are leading, with a clear-eyed unravelling of the madness that is waiting to be summoned to the surface. It also touches upon complicated family dynamics and how death changes relationships. As one character comments on how humans chose to live, by either ignoring the fact of death or living as if each day is the last, when the only truth is “Fear itself, I guess. That’s the most honest emotion.”
Narrated in first person, the fact that it’s translated from Korean doesn’t get in the way of the storytelling. Unlike the Girl in the Dragon Tattoo series, which introduced the non-Swedish reader to its protagonists’ love for coffee and Ikea furniture, its neutral setting in a duplex apartment that Yu-jin shares with his mother and brother, with a common laundry room for residents, is in keeping with the sparse theme.
As You Jeong Jeong, a bestselling South Korean author who has also written Seven Years of Darkness and 28, said in an interview, “What I depict best is not humanity’s grandeur but its wickedness.” The two live side by side and as the protagonist in her book says, “Someone once said that humans used a third of their lives dreaming, and that they led entirely different lives in their dreams. All kinds of foolish, violent and dirty desires came to life during this time.” In this book, she brings it bubbling to the surface, till it spills over into reality.
Published by Hachette India, at 300-odd pages, The Good Son is a perfect weekend read or if you have a few hours to kill on the metro to and from work.