Yu-jin is a good son, a model student and a successful athlete. But one day he wakes up covered in blood. There’s no sign of a break-in and there’s a body downstairs. It’s the body of someone who Yu-jin knows all too well.
Yu-jin struggles to piece together the fragments of what he can remember from the night before. He suffers from regular seizures and blackouts. He knows he will be accused if he reports the body, but what to do instead? Faced with an unthinkable choice, Yu-jin makes an unthinkable decision.
Through investigating the murder, reading diaries, and looking at his own past and childhood, Yu-jin discovers what has happened. The police descend on the suburban South Korean district in which he lives. The body of a young woman is discovered. Yu-jin has to go back, right back, to remember what happened, back to the night he lost his father and brother, and even further than that.
The Good Son deals with the ultimate taboo in family life, and asks the question: how far will you go to protect your children from themselves?
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
This was such a great read and so different from what I was expecting when I accepted the publisher’s offer of a copy. Based on the reviews I skimmed through prior to picking it up, I will admit I was a little wary. There was a lot of “it’s a slow burn” and “you have to stick with it” but this was not my experience of reading it at all.
From the very first page I found myself gripped and completely immersed in this story. There may not be a huge amount of action (although I should warn it is violent and a little gruesome in places) and it’s heavy on internal monologue and flashbacks (something I usually hate) but the whole story and Yu-jin in particular absolutely fascinated me.
The central premise of “main character awakes to discover a brutally murdered body and has no memory of what happened” is not a unique one but it is one that intrigues me and this author does it so well. The story is told almost entirely from the point of view of Yu-jin and I found being in his head a very interesting experience. There is clearly something not quite right but I found myself drawn to him and wanted to know more.
The truth of what happened to his mother and the reasons behind it are uncovered very slowly over the course of the book as Yu-jin finds clues, makes deductions and recalls the events from the night before (and further into the past) while simultaneously trying to cover everything up for as long as possible. It quickly becomes clear that there was something not right in the relationship between mother and son but, while we’re given the impression that she’s overly controlling and he’s afraid of her (and his Auntie), it’s obvious that Yu-jin may not be the victim he first appears and there could be a reason he’s kept on a tight leash.
I will say I wasn’t necessarily surprised by what is revealed over the course of the story as the author leaves enough hints and clues along the way for you to figure it out but this wasn’t the main draw for me. I was much more invested in what was coming next and what would happen to Yu-jin. I wouldn’t say I liked him, and he admits himself that he’s a skilled liar so you know not to trust him, but I was intrigued by him. Despite being the classic unreliable narrator he is very convincing and I found myself empathizing with him even when I knew I shouldn’t.
There’s a very claustrophobic, dark and disturbing feel to this story and while it’s not all action all of the time there were more than a few moments which had me on the edge of my seat. It is fairly limited in terms of scope, it’s primarily set within the apartment, takes place over a short period of time and there are very few characters (or interactions between them) making it quite quiet and intense but for me this just added to the suspense and anticipation.
The ending when it comes was brilliant but I will admit I found it a little disappointing. It wasn’t bad, I think it was more that the rest of the story had built my expectations up so high that I was expecting more.
If you can’t tell by now I really loved this book and would recommend to anyone who loves a thriller that really gets into a characters head.
Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with an advance copy. As always all views are my own.