Winter in Sokcho by Elisa Shua Dusapin

“Oozing winter and fish, Sokcho waited. That was Sokcho, always waiting, for tourists, boats, men, spring.”

I have once again a bone to pick with the person responsible for the blurb of a novel. Elisa Shua Dusapin is a Franco-Korean female author so that means she will be compared to a French author (Marguerite Duras) and to an author from East Asia (Sayaka Murata). Just like an an author from Latin America will be inevitably be compared to Isabel Allende and Gabriel García Márquez (often regardless of whether they have even written a magical realist work) or an Italian author will be pitched as being the new Elena Ferrante. This is so LAZY. Case in point, stylistically and tone-wise Winter in Sokcho shares little in common Murata and Duras. If anything, the protagonist’s somewhat detached narration brought to mind Sally Rooney and Naoise Dolan. Okay, now that I have gotten that out of my chest…onto the actual review.
As the title suggests Winter in Sokcho takes place during the winter in Sokcho a town in South Korea near the country’s border to North Korea. Our nameless narrator, a listless young woman, works at a guesthouse as a receptionist. She has a boyfriend she does particularly care for and seem to have no ambitions. Other than the fact that he is French, our protagonist knows little about her father’s identity. Her mother, alongside others, thinks that she should go to Seoul and seem to believe that our mc’s life would be easier if she underwent some cosmetic surgery. Our protagonist’s rather unenthusiastic daily-routine is interrupted by the arrival of a French cartoonist who is staying at her guesthouse. The two speak little but our narrator is shown to feel a certain lure towards him.
While I can see that for some this novella will be alluring, I found it boring and clichéd. The story lacked an ‘edge’, be it a biting humour or a more subversive protagonist. Nothing much happens and most pages seem dedicated to our narrator’s navel-gazing. There are also some odd description and word choices, such as when our protagonist notes that her “breasts tightened”. Wtf? And, no, she is not a bodybuilder. If she is aroused, wouldn’t have made more sense for her nipples to harden?
Not only did I find the protagonist to be bland but her rapport with the French guy came across as flat. Yet, I am meant to believe that they ‘share’ a connection…
I found this novella to be very much style over substance, which I am sure works for many other readers, I am just not one of them.

my rating: ★★☆☆☆

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