Saturday, July 09, 2016

Ladies of the arts

I went into the Pound Shop on London Road for a pad of lined paper. I'd been for a walk with Jane and we passed a shabby black painted temporary building on the beach near Concorde 2. We were curious about it, what it was for, and a man standing outside mending the doorway told us it contained an 'immersive experience' about time.

As we were leaving he said we could email him and he'd give us tickets (they were selling for £18, pretty steep given the experience only lasted an hour). 'You are obviously ladies of the arts,' he said.

I thought I'd stop off in a cafe and do a bit of writing to cement the status he'd conferred, but I didn't have a notebook. Then I saw a novel by someone I know in the books section. The pound shop's not a destination for books, but it's always worth checking the shelves for the remaindered gem. Hers was one I'd been meaning to read. And that led me to The Investigation by Jung-Myung Lee.

All that MacMillan says about this Korean writer is that he "has sold hundreds of thousands of books in his native Korea. One, Deep Rooted Tree, was made into a popular TV series."

It's brilliant. As immersive experiences go, I have to thank the man at the black chipboard shack on the seafront, because if I wasn't so determined to explore why I was so put out by that title, Ladies of the Arts, I wouldn't have found the novel. It mixes poetry and prose in the most inventive way and now I want to know more about this writer but I can find almost nothing, although I have discovered the name of the poet the novel centres on - Yun Dong-Ju who died in 1945 two years after being arrested as a 'thought criminal'.

It's a book about how we are shaped - how a moment listening to a woman playing piano can influence your whole life. It is about writing, words and violence. And I'm so far only half way through.

Jung Myung-Lee was longlisted for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize 2015. Is it his choice to limit the biographical information on this fascinating book? Translator is Chi-Young Kim.