Untold Day and Night by Bae Suah
Set in Seoul, Untold Day and Night dissolves reality's boundaries to mixed results
Untold Day and Night dissolves the boundaries of material reality, looping events as characters meld into one another. Unfolding from the scene of a young woman working in an audio theatre on the day it is to shutter for good, characters tumble through time in a series of disoriented pairs, occasionally leading, occasionally lost.
In an illuminating translator’s note by Deborah Smith, the reader is reminded of pressures on writers, particularly in translation, to represent their country. A re-appearing character dons traditional Korean hanbok in a number of performative roles. Suah’s interest in shamanism sees character Ayami given 'the name for the spirit that enters the shaman’s body and communicates matters of the other world to them.'
Once the theme of circuity has been firmly established, with nods to authorship and reality in devices such as radio bulletins and dreams, some momentum is lost in the latter half. A description of another book (The Blind Owl), with "mysterious repeated statements [to] enhance the sense of the surreal," is part of the theatre, but a little too on the nose. Still, there is plentry to enjoy here, not least glorious descriptions of stifling, body-saturating Seoul heat, with an undercurrent of noir: 'if you opened the window hot air heavier than a sodden quilt rushed in, clagging your pores like the slap of raw meat.'
Jonathan Cape, out now, £12.99