Title: The Cabinet
Author: Un Su Kim
Translator: Sean Lin Halbert
Release Date: 12/10/2021
E.S.C.A.P.E Score: 39
(see below for breakdown)
I received a free eARC copy from Angry Robot ,via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
Cabinet 13 looks exactly like any normal filing cabinet…Except this cabinet is filled with files on the ‘symptomers’, humans whose strange abilities and bizarre experiences might just mark the emergence of a new species.
But to Mr Kong, the harried office worker whose job it is to look after the cabinet, the symptomers are a headache; especially the one who won’t stop calling every day, asking to be turned into a cat.
A richly funny and fantastical novel about the strangeness at the heart of even the most everyday lives, from one of South Korea’s most acclaimed novelists.
I would have to say this is less a flowing story or character driven novel but more an interesting set of Vignettes that are all interconnected. Half of them focus around our MC Mr Kong who is a bored office worker who ends up being the keeper of Cabinet 13. The rest are little character profiles and short stories all based on the individuals who’s files are kept safe in Cabinet 13. They are thought to be the beginning on the next step of Human evolution and they are as weird and wonderful, yet still as utterly human as you would expect. The sections based round Mr Kong have a real depth to them, they explore depression, ennui, apathy and just the general day to day existence of life in a very detailed and subtle way. He isn’t an overly interesting character, he isn’t a hero in any way, he is just a man that was unsatisfied with his life and found interest in the strange tales of these others lives to only find himself managing there expectations as much as his own. The narrative voice is very free roaming and passive which I have found common in East-Asian translated works I have read. The story meanders and doesn’t feel like it has a destination, which if that is what you expect you will find enjoyment in regardless of it following ‘traditional’ western story structures or not.
I have to say the evolutionary science discussed at the beginning of the book is fantastically accurate even if the ‘evolutions’ themselves are somewhat bizarre. (I have a PhD in evolutionary biology) It was so interesting to see these real and recent scientific thinking intermingled with the fantastical elements of the story. The beginning of the book also contains the best allegory for chronic illness I have ever read. It perfectly captures the frustrations of trying to get a diagnosis, knowing more about your condition that any medical professional you encounter, trying to explain your condition to every medical professional you meet and justify the course of treatment/care, the constant arguments to access care/treatment that is required. I think this rings true in every medical system in the world and it those frustrations are perfectly described in this book.
The vignettes centred around the patients of Cabinet 13 take some really obscure yet interesting angles. There is a lot of ‘soft’ body horror aspects so I would be aware of that if you are not a fan of that kind of genre. But overall, they all tell tales of resilience, love, laughter and just loving yourself and who you are.
I enjoyed this book. I felt it was one of those books you could read a little section, put it down and then pick back up and explore another section with ease and without loosing the flow of the tale. I found myself picking it up and reading a chapter here and there over the course of several days and enjoyed that experience.