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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


A Contrived World

Jung Young-moon

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To purchase A Contrived World

Title: A Contrived World
Author: Jung Young-moon
Genre: Novel
Written: 2011 (Eng. 2016)
Length: 188 pages
Original in: Korean
Availability: A Contrived World - US
A Contrived World - UK
A Contrived World - Canada
Un monde dénaturé - France
  • Korean title: 어떤 작위의 세계
  • Translated by Jeffrey Karvonen and Eunji Mah

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Our Assessment:

B+ : enjoyably off-beat

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
World Lit. Today . 5-8/2016 Krys Lee

  From the Reviews:
  • "The narrative follows a sensibility more than a plot line; a simple plot gives way to thought, wonder, and wordplay. (...) A Contrived World is generous, holding everything from a minibiography of Richard Brautigan to an articulate defense of avant-garde fiction." - Krys Lee, World Literature Today

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       A Contrived World could easily pass for a travelogue, author Jung Young-moon describing visits to the US and his odd and unusual and other encounters and experiences there. Markers such as mentions of a stay at the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa, his having translated Raymond Carver, and his novel, Vaseline Buddha (forthcoming from Deep Vellum) leave no doubt he writes from experience. Yet in the stylized drift of his language, and the odd points he latches onto, A Contrived World is far from a straightforward Korean-abroad-account, and its explorations of form and expression make for a creative work of fiction -- and decidedly also a contrived on.
       Though he translated a work by Raymond Carver he no longer thinks highly of the author:

Carver is a good example of authors whom I used to think well of but I now believe have joined the ranks of mediocrity.
       Instead, the American author most strongly influencing Jung, and this work, is clearly Richard Brautigan, whom he also writes about at several points. Jung emulates Brautigan's off-beatness in A Contrived World, in both the episodes he relates as well as in his presentation.
       A Contrived World focuses on two of the narrator's stays in the US. The first had him "travelling with a woman I had dated for some time a while back and her boyfriend", and involved lots of drinking, as well as glimpses of LA, Hollywood, and Monterey. They parted ways in San Francisco, where the fog appealed to him (and didn't to the other two) -- though disappointingly: "The next day, the fog had lifted completely. Gone with the fog was my reason for remaining in San Francisco".
       This account of his first visit takes up about a third of the novel; the rest centers on his return to San Francisco five years later, when he was invited to be a writer in residence at the University of California, Berkeley -- though choosing not to be entirely in residence there, but rather getting a place in San Francisco itself. He doesn't get in touch with the former girlfriend again -- "because I thought that we would only spend time drinking tequila and shooting guns if we met again" -- but there's still a lot more of the same.
       The narrator claims: "I originally intended to title this novel My Idea of Fun", but seeing that Will Self had written a ("not-so-interesting) novel with that exact name" he abandons the title, if not, entirely, the concept. The laid-back narrator is likely not everyone's idea of fun (and certainly not the life of any party), and it's not too surprising that his own ideas of fun are hardly of the rollicking -- much less hilarious -- sort; indeed, it almost doesn't come as a surprise when he admits:
Twenty or so years ago, when I started writing novels, I had fallen into a bad mood and had been perpetually in a bad mood ever since, as if writing itself gave me a negative vibe.
       He has some odd hobbies -- rolling pebbles down hills, for example -- and engages in odd thought/practical experiments, such as counting "things that are unsuitable for counting, clouds and wind being prime examples", something that he finds: "at the same time perplexing and enjoyable". Beyond that, typically:
I thought about reflecting on my repeatedly becoming preoccupied with trifling thoughts, but I changed my my mind and continued with my thoughts.
       So also he is fascinated by the San Francisco fog -- and inspired (and uninspired, in his own way) by it, finding: "The fog made me think that I might write something, whether about the fog or unrelated to fog". And, indeed, the entire novel drifts in and out of this these fogs and observations and, especially, ambitions (as he generally manages little long-term follow-through, setting out to do one thing, but just as readily letting himself be side-tracked, or simply abandoning it). It's surprisingly effective -- if one is willing to go with the seemingly haphazard flow.
       His summing-up of the idea behind the title covers most of the book, too:
I imagined a world that could be reached only through the act of contriving -- a vague, awkward, confusing, unnatural, dark, hopeless yet inescapable world that was becoming ever deeper. Contriving seemed to be the only way to complete the life laid in front of me. In my contrived world, where the lines between meaningfulness and meaninglessness, existence and nonexistence, and chance and necessity are blurred, everything is out of context, and I have no attachment to anything that happens or does not happen. It is a fictional world of strange idleness.
       He's a bit torn about the outcome of his efforts here -- near the end he writes: "This entire novel, which I wrote as if it were about my idea of fun, is a lengthy expression of my indescribable, intense boredom" -- but the self-examination, and the observation -- and above all else, the expression -- do make for a surprisingly rich novel. It is also, in a way, a very funny novel, though the humor is exceptionally dry.
       This is very much a Brautiganesque work, complete with Brautiganesque episodes. It's fairly easy to see how readers might find A Contrived World annoying. However, those more open to this kind of off-beat contriving, and apparent aimlessness with a strong obsessive bent, should find it most enjoyable.

- M.A.Orthofer, 16 April 2016

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A Contrived World: Reviews: Other books by Jung Young-moon under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       South Korean author Jung Young-moon (정영문) was born in 1965.

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