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Gu Byeong-mo Books In Order

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Publication Order of Standalone Novels

The Old Woman with the Knife (2022)Description / Buy at Amazon

Gu Byeong-Mo
Gu Byeong-Mo was born in 1976 in Seoul, South Korea. She studied Korean literature at Kyung Hee University.

She has her own writing rule: go into a scene, whether it’s love or action, with as much detail as you want.

Gu’s debut novel “Wizard Bakery” mixes fantasy, mystery, and horror. It is the very first young adult novel in South Korea that employs magic as a major plot device, which breaks the convention of the genre to deal solely with realistic settings. The judges of the Changbi Prize for Young Adult Fiction chose it as its winner because it’s a fantastical allegory which deviates from the standard coming-of-age tale set in schools.

When she started writing “The Old Woman with the Knife” in 2012, she never set out to write a novel about feminism. Still, she had the vague comprehension that it’s tough to live in her society as a woman, and if you’re an old woman, you are in an even more disadvantaged situation, pushed outside of social safety nets and getting more economically precarious. Gu wanted to take this vague thought and give a shape to it.

And to do that, the lead character had to be somebody that faced more challenges, and somebody that got pushed out while the younger generations came in. affection, concern, and empathy were at the core of what she was hoping to explore, along with coming up with a plot. Which is why some feminists believe the novel is pretending to be a feminist book. But she wrote it without thinking about any of those things. And that’s why it has been belatedly popular in Korea. A novel that she wrote a long time ago has aligned by chance with the demands of a younger generation.

She was a young mom in her early thirties while writing the book, and she believed that writing a story far from her own daily life was this artistic challenge. Death and aging come in equally to everybody, regardless of your nationality and wealth.

The book is not really how readers should learn about Korean culture. The daily life of a killer is totally fictitious and imaginative, and the book delves into the negative aspects about how older citizens are treated and considered. When she wrote the novel, she never once imagined it’d reach an audience abroad, so sharing her culture was not something she’d even considered. But she does think that the book deals with the universality of change and loss.

Hornclaw came about because while she wrote the novel, an assassin brought to mind a very fit man of any age or a sensual and young woman, in Korea anyway. Gu grew up watching French films and Hollywood movies of the 1990s, so the killers she thought about were either Leon or Nikita. She was interested in writing about somebody with characteristics that were the total opposite.

Gu’s 2015 short story collection “I Hope It’s Not Just Me” received the Hwang Sun-won New Writers’ Award and Today’s Writer Award.

“The Old Woman with the Knife” is the first stand alone novel and was released in 2022. The kinetic story about a sixty-five year old female hitman that faces an unexpected threat in the twilight of her career.

Hornclaw, at the age of sixty-five, is starting to slow down. She lives modestly in a tiny apartment, with just her aging dog, named Deadweight (who was a rescue), to keep her company. There are expectations for people her age, that she will just retire and live out the rest of her life peacefully. However Hornclaw isn’t like other people. She’s an assassin.

Corporate enemies, double crossers, and cheating spouses. For the past four plus decades now, Hornclaw has murdered them each with ruthless efficiency, and the less that she has known about any of her targets, the better. However now that she is getting toward the end of her career, she has just slipped up, something that is uncharacteristic for her.

One injury leads her to this unexpected link with this doctor and his family. However emotions, for a hitman, are a most dangerous proposition. While her world starts closing in all around her, this final chapter of her career might also mark her own bloody ending.

A sensation first in South Korea, and now being translated into English for the first time by Chi-Young Kim, “The Old Woman with the Knife” is a singular, electrifying, and mordantly funny book about the expectations that are imposed on aging bodies and the dramatic ways that one woman decides to reclaim her own agency.

Gu delivers a quietly profound novel that explores the intricacies of loneliness and what it is actually like to be female in an industry that is dominated by men. This is a clever story, with readers’ favorite geriatric female assassin, since she is likable and quirky even though she is a killer. It’s a rare gift since she is a savvy protagonist that is senior and female.

Hornclaw is a well thought character that is coming to grips with recharting the path she’ll pave for the rest of her life. She is very matter-of-fact and expects a lot from other people but also out of herself. The novel is much more introspective than some were expecting, and while there’s a lack of action sequences, the profound character exploration left readers much more than satisfied.

This is a skillfully rendered thriller with a lot of heart to it. It’s a darkly funny and resonant K-noir treat, and examines the universal challenge of aging while still maintaining societal relevance to it.

“Into the Ivory Gates”, another novel, has been described (by Gu herself) to be confounding and complicated, and written in a stream of consciousness. It explores a dream world which touches on Virgil, Homer, and Buddhist and ancient worldviews. It is wildly different from “The Old Woman with the Knife”. Since it is a novel that totally destroys the basic structure of a story, she is not so sure if the book is going to reach readers abroad, however she always enjoys writing in a variety of ways.

Book Series In Order » Authors » Gu Byeong-mo

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