Thank you for to Head of Zeus for my spot on this blogtour.
In the summer of 2002, nineteen-year-old Kim Hae-on was murdered in what became known as the High School Beauty Murder. There were two suspects: Shin Jeongjun, who had a rock-solid alibi, and Han Manu, to whom no evidence could be pinned. The case went cold.
Seventeen years pass without justice, and the grief and uncertainty take a cruel toll on her younger sister, Da-on, in particular. Unable to move on with her life, Da-on tries in her own twisted way to recover some of what she’s lost, ultimately setting out to find the truth of what happened.
Told at different points in time from the perspectives of Da-on and two of Hae-on’s classmates, Lemon is a piercing psychological portrait that takes the shape of a crime novel and is a must-read novel of 2021.
I have somewhat mixed feelings about this book. I had thought it was a thriller about the murder of Kim Hae-on which became known as The High School Beauty Murder. But it is nothing like that. I wouldn’t call it a thriller at all. It’s a complex read exploring trauma, loss and grief and how different individuals deal with it. Although it is beautifully written it did leave me asking questions at the end, I think this is a book some will love and others not so much. The feelings are there, I just felt I was left hanging at the end. But that could just be me and how I interpreted it.
The murder of Hae-on took place during the 2002 FIFA World Cup which was being hosted by Korea and Japan. With two main suspects Shin Jeongjun and Han Manu. Shin had what the police called a solid alibi so the focus was all put on Han Manu his interviews were quite aggressive and the police never really focused anywhere else, but with no evidence proving that he did it the case went cold. Or did his interview go this way, after all it is only how Da-on imagined it to be, as she states at the very beginning. Throughout the chapters spanning 17 years you never really get a definitive answer as to who did kill Hae-on, there are clues throughout which you can come to your own conclusions.
The murder leaves long lasting ripples throughout the lives of the people closest to the tragedy, mostly her family, her sister Da-on who feels she should honour her sister, she goes through every emotion from revenge to acceptance, I found her parts the easiest to follow. At times it is confusing as to who is narrating through each short chapter, and trying to work out what has happened in the years in between as each chapter jumps four years. A couple of chapters I did find harder to follow, one where the Taerim now engaged to Shin Jeongiun is talking to a counsellor on the telephone, as you are only getting one side of the conversation it’s difficult to gauge exactly what is said, although you have a rough idea what is being asked but I did struggle. The narration is through the perspectives of Da-on and two of Hae-on’s classmates. How reliable are these as narrators?
The short chapters cover plastic surgery, Christianity and other ways of coping with loss, along with social class. We were told how beautiful Hae-on was but it was Da-on the younger sister who was having to watch her all the time whereas most of the time it’s the older sister watching the younger, so why was this the other way around?
Almost every other chapter is narrated by Da-on. I would have liked to have got to know the characters better, they just didn’t come across as real, you couldn’t feel anything for them. I wanted to feel some sympathy for Da-on who had been hit hard by the death of her sister. But the jumping of four years each time, and then a missing baby from one of the characters it just became a little confusing. I have an idea where that was going but as with who killed Hae-on I am only guessing.
The title comes from the fact that Hae-on was wearing a Lemon coloured dress. At around 150 pages this is not a long story and is easily read in one sitting.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Kwon Yeo-sun is an award-winning Korean writer. She has won the Sangsang
Literary Award, Oh Yeongsu Literature Award, Yi Sang Literary Prize, Hankook Ilbo Literary Award,
Tong-ni Literature Prize and Lee Hyo-seok Literary Award. Lemon is her first novel to be published
in the English language.
ABOUT THE TRANSLATOR:
Janet Hong is a writer and translator based in Vancouver, Canada. She received the TA First
Translation Prize and the LTI Korea Translation Award for her translation of Han Yujoo’s The
Impossible Fairy Tale, which was also a finalist for both the 2018 PEN Translation Prize and the
National Translation Award. Her recent translations include Ha Seong-nan’s Bluebeard’s First Wife, Annco’s Nineteen, and Keum Suk Gendry-Kim’s Grass.
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