Emma interviews ‘The Hole’ author, Hye-young Pyun!

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by Emma aka @thebookshelfofachampagnechild

Hi there, this is Emma from the Instagram account, @thebookshelfofachampagnechild! Skyhorse Publishing approached me to take part in a collaborative book-blog-tour! I perused their website, their books published, and blog, Carousel, and was incredibly impressed! I love the diversity of the books they publish, I think their mission is a wonderful one. I spent a lot of fun time on this blog, seeing that there are books and food featured – that’s what I consider the perfect blog. I read the book ‘The Hole’ by Hye-Young Pyun, and I loved it! I got to participate in a Q&A with the author, which was very intimidating, but fun! I hope you enjoy! Thank you!

Happy reading!

This book is about a man Oghi, who wakes up in the hospital. He’s been unconscious for a long time, he wakes up to find out that the car crash that sent him here has killed his wife and left him paralyzed. Oghi, who has no family left, is left under the care of his mother in-law. His mother in-law is grieving the death of her daughter, and as she takes care of her son in-law, she decides to finish what her daughter has left behind. Oghi’s wife had spent the last bit of her life dedicated to her garden, and now his mother-in law is digging in the garden, The Hole. This book is haunting, and left me feeling unnerved. I would have to say this book is Stephen King‘s Misery meets Kafka’s Metamorphosis. This book left me climbing the wall, and showed me I could feel claustrophobic in my own body.

Q&A with Hye-young Pyun for “The Hole”:

1) I really enjoyed reading your book, I had never read a psychological thriller that made me feel so isolated – what were some of your inspirations to write a book that made the body feel so claustrophobic?

I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of isolation, both physical and psychological. The loneliness and sense of solitude that comes from having no one to help you, and no one you can even ask for help, must be tremendously painful. I’m drawn to people who fail despite their best efforts, who try so hard in life only to have things slip through their fingers. I think we’re all always losing something, though the things we lose and the scale of those losses vary.

2) I recently read Han Kang’s thrilling book The Vegetarian, who is also Korean, and I am a fan of Korean horror films. Do you think there is a reason why a lot of great psychological thrillers come out of Korea?

The spectrum of Korean fiction is actually quite broad. I think that all kinds of different stories are being produced all the time. But my impression of Korean literature is that what most writers are grappling with is the idea of human ethics itself. Or to put it another way, the idea of difference and discrimination. That’s a topic that lies close to the heart of the social issues prevalent in Korean society today, and it’s a very classic subject for literary fiction. The Vegetarian and The Hole are unique in that they both deal with psychological isolation. But I wouldn’t necessarily characterize the psychological thriller as a common genre in Korean literature.

3) Who are some of your favourite authors? I love to find out who writers love to read!

Too many to list! Whenever I like a book, I immediately become fascinated with the writer. Among my favorites, Kafka is always a good read. I’ve read some of his books so many times that I practically have them memorized, but they’re still as thought-provoking as ever. With others, it’s like I’m seeing them from a whole new angle each time I re-read them. Some other favorites are Milan Kundera and Philip Roth—their work makes me want to be a better writer.

4) I like that you only shared the name of the main character, did you do this on purpose?

Yes, because Oghi’s wife and mother-in-law are filtered through his point of view. He sees them less as separate, unique individuals and more in terms of the role they fulfill (“wife”) and the position they occupy (“mother-in-law”) relative to him. And, of course, it’s a handy device for showing the cold and dogmatic sides to Oghi’s personality. Withholding their names also helped cultivate his sense of isolation.

5) The role of the mother-in-law was very disturbing, what were some of your motivations for creating this character?

In Korea, the mother-in-law (regardless of whether she’s the wife’s or husband’s mother) is a character who demands familiarity—they’re your family whether you like it or not. If you refuse that intimacy and try to distance yourself, then you’re raked over the coals for it. And yet, because they’re not blood relatives, there will always be a certain distance between you. This struck me as the perfect amount of distance for whoever would take care of Oghi after his accident.

I wanted that character to be someone who wasn’t directly related to him by blood but was bound to him by the idea of family or relations. It seemed to me that the best way to amplify Oghi’s anxiety was by introducing a person in his life who was more trustworthy than someone completely unrelated to him by blood and yet who was not actually there to help him—that person could only be his wife’s mother. If Oghi had been female (and I frankly doubt I could have written this book if he were) I still would have gone with the mother-in-law for that role.

6) Do you take part in the translation process? And if you do, how closely do you work with the translator?

I leave the work of translation entirely up to the translator. I trust whoever is translating my work completely. The way I aid in the process is by answering any questions they send my way, but I don’t examine the translations or push for different choices of words or anything like that.

7) Gardening is an important part of the novel – do you garden? And if you do, do you do it for aesthetics, or to reach a state of mind?

I’ve lived pretty much my whole life in apartment buildings in the city. I’ve never actually had a garden, and the most I’ve grown has been a few potted indoor plants. Right now my husband and I have several cactuses of varying sizes. But I don’t have any particular skill at gardening, and to be really honest, I haven’t considered it as a serious hobby. Even the cactuses we own are just there and don’t have any particular functional or decorative purpose.

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The Hole
by Hye-young Pyun
Translated by Sora Kim-Russell
ISBN 9781628727807

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