Violets by Kyung-Sook Shin

Firstly, a huge thank you to W&N for sending me a copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

Publisher: W&N
Publication Date:
Length: 218 pages
Translated Fiction | Korean Fiction | Contemporary Fiction

CW: n/a

We join San in 1970s rural South Korea, a young girl ostracised from her community. She meets a girl called Namae, and they become friends until one afternoon changes everything. Following a moment of physical intimacy in a minari field, Namae violently rejects San, setting her on a troubling path of quashed desire and isolation.

We next meet San, aged twenty-two, as she starts a job in a flower shop. There, we are introduced to a colourful cast of characters, including the shop’s mute owner, the other florist Su-ae, and the customers that include a sexually aggressive businessman and a photographer, who San develops an obsession for. Throughout, San’s moment with Namae lingers in the back of her mind.



I loved how Shin was able to do so much in such a short novel, the pacing and the character development were excellently presented. The way that Shin manages to make San’s everyday life so surreal and dreamlike – almost as if you’re strolling through the streets in the same dazed state as San gave the novel a new dimension that was almost haunting.

This carries over to the characters themselves too, even though we first meet San as a child, we actually know very little about her and what happened in the gap between the first chapter to the next. On one hand, I really enjoyed how mysterious she appeared and how there were some things you could piece together however, on the other hand, at times I was a little confused by her motivations and her sudden spiraling. I have many speculations, but it would have been nice to have something confirmed in some way. Su-ae was a very interesting character to complement San, with echoes of her childhood friend Namae, we also seem to learn more about her than our protagonist, and yet, she remains just as much a mystery as San. I loved seeing these women juxtaposed together, with one as vibrant and outspoke, whereas the other is quietly cautious, hoping to go through life undetected.

Whilst it can feel as though we don’t learn much about San directly, a lot can be inferred from the prose passages that San writes which are sprinkled throughout the novel. I loved how beautifully lyrical these passages were and how they differed from the rest of the novel. This was also a great way for Shin to illustrate the way San viewed the world. Using these, coupled with the ‘real world’ made San’s spiraling descent incredibly unsettling and confusing which had me hooked.

Overall, I really enjoyed this novel and this is definitely one that you need to pick up. The more I think about this novel and these characters, the more I understand the brilliance of Shin’s storytelling. 

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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