“What’s the oldest memory in your head? Going to kindergarten, holding your mom’s hand? No, something older than that, the first memory engraved in the inner folds of the brain. They say that you don’t remember things from when you were a baby. I don’t know whether you don’t remember them because they happened too long ago, or if memories that aren’t that important are discarded, but in any case, I’m curious as to what people keep tucked deep within their brains as their first memories.”
The Only Child
By Mi-ae Seo; Translated by Yewon Jung
Source: Advance review copy
Criminal psychologist Seonkyeong has just been given the opportunity to interview serial killer, Yi Byeongdo. Yi has refused to speak with anyone about his crimes and although Seonkyeong is often compared to the iconic Clarice Starling from Silence of the Lambs, she seems nervous and almost out of her element, but this is a great opportunity for her to explore what makes a serial killer.
Meanwhile, Seonkyeong’s home life is about to be disrupted by the arrival of her husband’s eleven-year-old child from a previous marriage. A child she knew nothing about mind you. The child, Hayeong, escaped a fire where her grandparents died and the only thing she walked away with was her teddy bear.
Seonkyeong deserves a lot of credit for doing her best to provide stability and welcome the child to her home but the young girl is distant and there is something unsettling about her. Of course, when Seonkyeong tries to share her concerns with her husband he tells her she needs to be understanding.
Through her interviews with Byeongdo, Seonkyeong learns that his actions could have been from trauma he suffered at his mother’s hands but as he recounts his past, Seonkyeong sees troubling actions from her stepdaughter. Is she being fair to a little girl who has lost loved ones and who’s life has changed so suddenly or is there something more sinister there.
I thought the eleven-year-old child was the strongest character because I certainly couldn’t wait to see what she was up to next but on the whole I found the writing was a bit clunky and some of the narrative didn’t flow as well but was that the author or was it the translation? I was very excited about this because it is set in South Korea but unfortunately it didn’t deliver the thrilling read I was expecting.