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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


The Hole

Pyun Hye-Young

general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase The Hole

Title: The Hole
Author: Pyun Hye-Young
Genre: Novel
Written: 2016 (Eng. 2017)
Length: 198 pages
Original in: Korean
Availability: The Hole - US
The Hole - UK
The Hole - Canada
Der Riss - Deutschland
  • Korean title: 홀
  • Translated by Sora Kim-Russell

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Our Assessment:

B : fairly but not entirely effective

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Korea Herald . 13/4/2016 Rumy Doo
World Lit. Today . 11-12/2017 Krys Lee

  From the Reviews:
  • "The third person narrative that observes Oh-gi, whose name ironically means "refusal to give up" in Korean, adds to the story’s pervading sense of passivity. (...) Pyun’s style persists in this disconcerting and often sinister story, and the reader is left wondering which is more devastating -- one life-threatening catastrophe or a million little surrenders in everyday life." - Rumy Doo, The Korea Herald

  • "The Hole is rooted in character but has the suspense of a thriller. (...) Through revealing the holes haunting the three characters’ lives, the novel builds toward its chilling climax. The Hole is for readers who are unafraid of knowing that our life, and our loved ones, are strangers to us." - 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:

       The Hole centers on Oghi, who slowly regains consciousness several months after a devastating car accident that has left him almost completely paralyzed and unable to speak. His wife died in the accident, and the only family he has left is his widowed mother-in-law, who takes over his care when he is finally moved out of hospital and back home.
       A geography professor in his late forties, Oghi found the way to success in his narrow field; his wife, meanwhile, struggled with everything she did, even abandoning a book she had a contract for. Oghi realizes that: "She had simply wanted to succeed and make a name for herself", but:

Every goal she had set out to accomplish had ended in failure, and she rarely got to feel what it was like to live up to her own abilities.
       She did dedicate herself quite obsessively to certain things, including planting a garden in their backyard -- not meeting with much success initially either, but continuing to try. She was also a: "compulsive recorder", making notes about everything -- including Oghi. It is these, which Oghi realizes his mother-in-law must have found in their house, that also reveal some of her dissatisfaction with Oghi; indeed, their marriage may have been coming to an end right when they took that fateful drive.
       Oghi is a prisoner in his own body, able at first only to communicate by blinking and then later by crudely scrawling -- without being able to write quite clearly enough. He comes close to conveying some of his concerns -- including a plaintive 助けてください, Japanese for 'Please help me !' -- but no one really realizes what's going on with him. On the other hand, his mother-in-law doesn't have to say out loud what she's thinking: Oghi sees clearly enough in her expression:
That look of fear that Oghi might get better. That look of hope that he would not.
       The mother-in-law has her own agenda -- and she is in control, further isolating Oghi and even more obviously imprisoning him, while not seeing to it that he gets the care he needs. And then there's that hole that she's ominously digging in the garden. That very big hole ..... For a pond, maybe. Maybe.
       The Hole is a disturbingly claustrophobic tale, its main character barely able to do anything for himself but quite keenly aware of what is going on around him. The failures of his marriage come back to haunt him, as his mother-in-law clearly wants to avenge his wrongs against his now dead wife -- and Pyun effectively heightens the tension by showing only Oghi's very limited perspective: the reader can only guess what she's up to to the same limited extent Oghi can. But there's enough interaction between them to make abundantly clear that she does not have his best interests at heart.
       Pyun teases by offering a few cracks to the shell Oghi is stuck in -- he regains some movement in one hand; he thinks he begins to have feeling in his legs; when the telephone rings he is almost able to answer it; he can sort of scribble some words, and almost sort of speak. But there's no real escape, and his mother-in-law sees to it that outsiders can't really interfere.
       It works reasonably well, though Pyun wants to have it both ways and at times goes too far with Oghi almost getting the help he needs -- too far because the pulling back doesn't seem realistic: you would expect others to get more involved at several of these points, but conveniently they don't. The back history of the troubled marriage could also have been developed further; while referring to his wife only by her position ('wife') and leaving her -- like all the other characters -- nameless is effective it also makes Oghi's transgressions seem more abstract. (It does allow for some nice touches, however -- including that observation that all she ever wanted to do was to: "succeed and make a name for herself".)
       For the most part, The Hole is quite effectively creepy, and Pyun tells Oghi's frustrated story quite well -- but it's a story that could have benefitted from being spun out even further.

       [Note: The seed for The Hole was apparently Pyun's story Caring for Plants, originally published in The New Yorker. While many elements are common to both, some fundamentals -- including notably Oghi's physical condition (he's much worse off in the novel-version) -- are very different, ultimately making for two quite different fictions.]

- M.A.Orthofer, 23 July 2017

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The Hole: Reviews: Other books by Pyun Hye-Young under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Korean literature

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About the Author:

       Korean author Pyun Hye-Young (편혜영) was born in 1972.

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© 2017-2018 the complete review

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