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.
Huge thanks to Head of Zeus for my spot on the blog tour, and for providing me with a beautiful proof copy in exchange for an honest review.
It feels like a cop-out, as I say this about quite a few books, but Lemon really is a very difficult book to review! I’ll start by saying I loved it – it really is so different from anything else I have read – and it is the sort of book you will want to talk about immediately with others who have read it (as we’ve been doing in the Insta discussion group!). It is a book that manages to be both hugely clever and very readable. This is crime fiction, but not as we know it.
From the tragic death of Kim Hae-on, the story spins out into the future, following those affected by (and accused of) the murder. Dae-on, her younger sister, is our touchstone, the character we spend the most time with, but we also enter the viewpoints of Eonni and Taerim, both former classmates, and as the years pass, we find out hints of what happened at the time, and the spiral of incidents that has taken place in the aftermath. At one point, one of the characters notices something, and says “I couldn’t help but find this fact chilling,” and that pretty much sums up how I felt while reading this book. The story is slippery, elusive, hard to pin down and yet there is a core of something dark running through it that keeps you reading, even as you might wonder what exactly is going on.
There are elements that would appeal to fans of true crime podcasts, and others that provide a kind of slantwise take on the crime genre. It reminded me slightly of Claudia Piñeiro’s excellent novel Elena Knows, in that it takes a familiar genre and creates something entirely new out of it, but as I mentioned before, it is very hard to compare Lemon to anything but itself, so strikingly original is it.
This is a short novel, but it manages to say so much in its gaps and silences, in what it refuses to spell out explicitly. If you are a fan of a neat and tidy conclusion, you may find this book frustrating, but you will certainly come away with a lot of theories, and a lot to discuss. I thought it was brilliant – a darkly ambiguous book that sticks in the mind long after your finish it.
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, Ancco’s Nineteen, and Keum Suk Gendry-Kim’s Grass.
Amazon UK: https://bit.ly/3mw4AXa
2 thoughts on “Review: Lemon by Kwon Yeo-sun translated by Janet Hong (2021) @HoZ_Books #Lemon”
Great review Ellie – I agree it was difficult to review!
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