A crucial voice in the burgeoning movement of feminist fiction from South Korea, Ha is a master of atmospheric suspense whose stories use shock and horror to dissect contemporary gender-based violence and its historical roots ... We could call Ha’s personal genre 'domestic surrealism' ... Janet Hong’s translation and rendering of Ha’s style is so uniformly applied that it brings an extra cohesiveness to the collection. In fact, it is precisely the detached coolness of this voice that is so effectively disturbing in conjunction with the grotesque facts it describes. They are tales that could appear sprawled across the front page of a tabloid, but Hong treats them without a hint of sensationalism ... While her characters are decidedly plain (corpse notwithstanding), Ha’s landscapes are elegant and painterly, expertly exposing the fissures between appearances and reality ... Each story is a clever investigation into the tensions between the personal and the communal, violence and peace—particularly in the lives of women. The moments of true horror are carefully rationed, showing the author’s mastery of atmospheric suspense. Yet she makes no real conclusions or judgments—the stories are cold cases. Ha peels back the layers encasing crimes of hatred, misogyny, and despair, but never quite lays blame or follows them through to see justice done. Is the jury out, or is she leaving the verdict to the reader? Perhaps she is unwilling to appease our need for a moral to the story—after all, these aim to be depictions of real life, not fables ... After an acclaimed debut, Bluebeard’s First Wife is a forceful and impressive second collection. These stories succeed in unsettling us, not only by exposing our worst nightmares about what lies behind forbidden doors, but also by asking us whose fault it was to enter. The answer is clear, isn’t it?
Best-selling Korean author Ha and award-winning Canadian translator Hong are two-for-two at spectacular pairing, repeating the successful partnership of Ha’s collection, Flowers of Mold (2019), with another sensational, 11-story collaboration ... Despite a significant body count, Ha’s provocative narratives never devolve into the maudlin, showcasing instead sly moments of macabre fascination and startling dark comedy.
Ha Seong-Nan’s stories unfold like folk tales. Their clear, tightly focused problems and the counterintuitive way characters go about solving them leave room for hubris to be punished, for ironies to click into place in their final moments. But, like the book’s title, the premises in the Korean writer’s second collection published in English are often red herrings, as Ha eschews even the kind of 'happy' ending that the original Bluebeard story provided for far grimmer conclusions. As with her previous collection, last year’s Flowers Of Mold, in Bluebeard’s First Wife, Ha favors ruin and decay over tidiness, defying narrative expectations and crafting nightmarish visions that spark with dark energy.