As these conflicting observations pile up, you begin to wonder whether her daughter’s body really is morphing daily and noticeably; whether it, like everything else in Sokcho, exists in a state of extreme ambivalence. Though slippery in its thematic effect, the language in this masterful short novel is to the point, written in sharp first-person and full of indirect speech. Many of the short sentences don’t bother with verbs at all: “In their bin, two condoms, packaging from a night-time face cream, mandarin peelings,” or, “My arms around him, unreal.” The protagonist is a keen observer of people, cutting in the way those who hover at the sidelines often are in judging others.
The Living Sea of Waking Dreams
"At the heart of this latest novel from Booker winner Richard Flanagan there is a powerful tale of a family trying to decide whether to prolong the life of a dying relative, but some of the more fantastical elements seem out of kilter..."
— The Scotsman
3.57 out of 5
The bustling seaside resort of Sokcho in South Korea is desolate in winter, a liminal landscape with shuttered shops, empty streets and a penetrating cold that makes the beaches oppressive; it’s the perfect backdrop for this quietly haunting debut...
It’s a graceful, slow drift of a novel where nothing much happens; she eats her mother’s food, watches as Kerrand sketches her town in a way that’s unrecognisable to her, and contemplates her own wavering emotions with lonesome, chilly acuity.
Dusapin is a stylish writer interested in the emotional life of her characters. Born in France in 1992, she was raised in Paris, Seoul and Switzerland. Published in French in 2016 to wide acclaim, Winter in Sokcho (L’Hiver en Sokcho) was awarded the Prix Robert Walser and the Prix Régine Desforges, and has since been translated into six languages. It is easy to see why. This finely crafted debut explores topics of identity and heredity in compelling fashion. In its aimless, outsider protagonist there are echoes of Sayaka Murata’s Convenience Store Woman and Jen Beagin’s Pretend I’m Dead. Dusapin’s writing on the female body recalls the likes of Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar, Margaret Atwood’s first novel The Edible Woman, and more recently Alexandra Kleeman’s You Too Can Have a Body Like Mine.
Body dysmorphia abounds, from the narrator’s frequent cycles of overeating and purging to the hopeless quest for perfection manifested in the swollen, bandaged face of a female hotel guest who has undergone plastic surgery. Identity is in crisis, with the toweringly obvious symbol of a land divided hanging over it all. Dusapin’s terse sentences are at times staggeringly beautiful, their immediacy sharply and precisely rendered from French by Aneesa Abbas Higgins: “the rain hammered down, the sea rising beneath it in spikes like the spines of a sea urchin”. Oiled with a brooding tension that never dissipates or resolves, Winter in Sokcho is a noirish cold sweat of a book.