Review of ‘The Cabinet’ by Un-su Kim

This is a bizarre, intriguing novel set in South Korea. Unpredictable, absurd, funny and horrifying, The Cabinet is definitely not for everyone but is worth a try if you want something unusual.

Narrated by Mr Kong, the story centres around a cabinet he finds in his workplace. The cabinet contains records of ‘symptomers’, people with very strange attributes, such as a man who nurtures a ginkgo tree growing from his finger, people who constantly erase and manipulate their own memories, a woman who involuntarily skips time, a girl with a lizard instead of a tongue and a man who is desperate to turn into a cat. Mr Kong becomes the custodian of the records and finds himself becoming a sort of counsellor. In between the stories of these people, he tells us about his life. You can see this novel as a collection of linked weird stories or you can look further into it, as philosophy and an exploration of capitalism and office culture in South Korea today. The ending is not for the faint-hearted.

Although I didn’t love this book, I appreciated the oddness and I think it may be the first I’ve read by a South Korean author. I’d be interested to read more of his work.

Thank you to the publisher Angry Robot for the advance copy via NetGalley. The book was first published in 2006 as Kaebinit (캐비닛) – the English translation by Sean Lin Halbert will be published on 12th October.

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