LEMON – Kwon Yeo-Sun

“Lemon, I muttered. Like a chant of revenge, I muttered: Lemon, lemon, lemon.” Da-on

“Her beauty was urgent, precarious, like the piercing wail of a speeding ambulance. I could not look away.” – Sanghui’s description of Taerim

Lemon (Other Press 2021, translated from the Korean by Janet Hong) is Kwon Yeo-sun’s first novel to be translated into English. The blurb calls it “Parasite meets The Good Son,” and it’s such a hard novel to pin down. It’s a psychological thriller about the murder of a beautiful girl, and while it is framed as a whodunnit, it’s not.  The reader is not going to see the murderer accused and brought to justice.  Despite how it looks, the novel isn’t about who killed Kim Hae-on.  The novel is about how the “High School Beauty Murder” impacted the lives of three young women.

Lemon is a short novel and quick read. It is divided into 8 sections that span from 2002 to 2019.  The novel centers on grief, guilt, and revenge. Hae-on is a beautiful girl who is tragically murdered in the summer of 2002, when Korea is hosting the World Cup.  Her younger sister, Da-on, who has lived in her sister’s shadow while also being her caretaker, becomes cloaked in despair, only worsened by the depression of their mother. Da-on begins to change herself, losing weight and getting plastic surgery after plastic surgery to look like her sister.  She becomes determined to find her sister’s killer and get revenge – not necessarily justice, but revenge.

Sanghui is a classmate of Hae-on, but she was much closer to Da-on as the two were in a poetry class together. Through her sections, the reader is afforded a better view of Da-on and the drastic change following Hae-on’s murder. We also learn more about Hae-on and the rivalry with Taerim, the other high school beauty.

Taerim’s sections, marked in madness and depression, are the most telling.  It is through her that the reader learns what happened to Hae-on, and how affluence can make any problem disappear.

All three women are forever scarred by Hae-on’s murder, and all three have guilt surrounding it and the events that unfolded following it.  Lemon is a piercing look at grief, guilt, and the bitter and sweet lemon that is revenge.

Read this book.

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