Book Review: The Impossible Fairytale

The Impossible Fairytale, by Han Yujoo (translated by Janet Hong), tells the story of The Child, a twelve year old girl living in Korea who, unbeknown to anyone at her school, suffers appalling abuse at the hands of her mother. She deals with her pain by inflicting suffering on others. She wants to kill.

The Child has learned that punishments are minimised if she is can get through each day unnoticed. She moves softly, interacts only when necessary, rarely speaks. She lives life on the margins, merging with the background of others’ everyday existence.

The reader is introduced to her classmates. Mia is a pretty girl granted everything she desires by her indulgent parents. She keeps two journals – one to be handed in at school and one for her secrets. As she lives a gentle, unconstrained life her secrets are few.

The boys in the class play rough games, hurting each other in the name of fun. They torture and kill insects and small animals. They mercilessly bully a child with special needs. Mia and The Child observe this behaviour. The casual cruelties of children are horrifically portrayed.

The Child acquires a key to the classroom and writes in her classmates’ journals. When her tampering is discovered the teacher demands that the culprit come forward, to no avail. The Child is worried that she will be discovered and attempts to hide what she has done. A chance encounter draws Mia into her web with devastating consequences.

The second part of the book picks up the story and turns meta, developing it from the point of view of an author completing the work. This change took some time to segue with before regaining my attention.

Throughout there is much play on words. The voice employed in both sections is detached yet compelling. There is repetition and a number of strange dream sequences but what is conveyed remains chillingly coherent.

The writing is savage, playful, visceral and intellectually stimulating. There is a raw energy to its progression, a dreadful realism at the heart of its depictions that make them grim yet gripping.

Unusual but never difficult, this is an impressive read.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Tilted Axis.