At sixty-five, Hornclaw is beginning to slow down. She lives modestly in a small apartment, with only her aging dog, a rescue named Deadweight, to keep her company. There are expectations for people her age—that she'll retire and live out the rest of her days quietly. But Hornclaw is not like other people. She is an assassin.
... both a fast-paced thriller and a meditation on the place of a 65-year-old woman in modern society. The pithy yet evocative translation by Chi-Young Kim gives Hornclaw an understated wit accented with wisdom born of a difficult life, making for a sympathetic if unorthodox protagonist ... Beyond the physical violence which forms the core and framework of the story, Hornclaw’s internal ruminations provide a window into the issues facing elderly women in Korea, albeit through the lens of a particularly unique representative ... Although framed in gory violence, Hornclaw evokes something specific, at least by reputation, to her generation of Koreans. Times were hard following the end of the Japanese Occupation and Korean War, and women in particular were never allowed the luxury of laziness, forced to work and take care of the home and family. Hornclaw’s sacrifices are of an entirely different sort, but the fact that they also—in their way—paved the way for the prosperous, democratic Korea of today, is both a reflection of and an ironic commentary on old habits and out-of-date views—views which, it hardly need be pointed out, are entirely exclusive to Korea.
Smooth, literary, extremely interesting – in many ways it cuts to the heart of things ... Very quickly, you will find yourself in the curious moral position of sympathising with and cheering on Hornclaw – who has ruthlessly murdered hundreds of people – as she uses her skills not to take life but to protect it. For all its poetic moments and literary creds, the final fight scene is quite something. It’s detailed, brutal and visceral, taking the raw, elemental qualities of Gu Byeong-mo’s writing to darker and more violent places ... might be a little slow for some crime fiction lovers, it’s a fascinating read and gives us a rare insight – in crime fiction terms, at least – into life in South Korea. As well as the commentary on ageing and the book’s voluminous emotional content, it was interesting that in this fictional state murder is corporatised and even assassins are chewed up and spat out by uncaring capitalist enterprise. Never mind health and safety or pensions…
... a brisk narrative that offers a thoughtful reflection on societal attitudes on the aging process in Korea and elsewhere. In Kim’s fluid translation, the novel resembles recent South Korean narratives that became popular in the United States, like Bong Joon Ho’s 2019 film Parasite and Hwang Dong-hyuk’s 2021 television series Squid Game; like these works, The Old Woman With the Knife uses occasionally cartoonish action and horror sequences to offer a broader social commentary.