The Good Son by You-jeong Jeong, translated from the Korean by Chi-Young Kim, is a psychological thriller that has been compared to American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis, Misery by Stephen King and A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess, and, since two of these novels are among my favourite books of all time, I was very intrigued to read it. Moreover, it’s a work in translation, and You-jeong Jeong is described as one of the leading psychological crime fiction authors in South Korea.
I don’t read a lot of thrillers, and, in those rare cases that I do, I find it hard to review them without giving away major plot points. I find that, in most cases, there is not much to talk about in terms of themes and symbolism, so I can only judge these books based on whether they succeed at what they essentially set out to do – to tell a thrilling and suspenseful story that keeps you on the edge of your seat.
The Good Son is narrated in the first person by Yu-jin, a 25-year old college student and former swimming champion, who lives with his widowed mother and adopted brother Hae-jin, who in many ways resembles Yu-jin’s deceased older brother. The book opens with Yu-jin waking up one day, covered in blood, and finding the body of his mother, who clearly has been murdered. We soon learn that Yu-jin suffers from a condition that requires him to use medication to prevent seizures an blackouts, but a side effect of the pills is that they make him lethargic, so he sometimes secretly goes for days without taking them. When he finds his murdered mother’s body, he quickly realizes that he will become the prime suspect of the murder investigation, so he struggles to piece together what actually happened from the fragments of his memories and his mother’s diary entries.
I think that, even if you’re not a crime fiction enthusiast, you might be able to guess, fairly accurately, how this story is going to unfold, based on just a few pieces of information provided in the synopsis. Despite the fact that this is a thriller, I found the pacing of the book to be very slow, and, apart from some truly intense and chilling moments, I felt that the narrative was going in circles between each point when some new and exciting piece of information is revealed. I must admit that I wasn’t particularly surprised by the revelations. The hints that are left throughout the book made it pretty obvious, however, I found the character of Yu-jin quite fascinating and convincing. From the very start, you get the sense that he might be an unreliable narrator, and I was intrigued to find out how he will react and deal with the unfolding situation. The story is set over the course of just a few days, and it feels like you are stuck in Yu-jin mind that gives the book a rather claustrophobic atmosphere. While I found the overall plot to be quite predictable, the book really succeeds as a dark character study.
Thank you to the publisher for a copy of this book via NetGalley.