The Hole by Hye-Young Pyun

A novella billed as “As Korean take on Misery” — as in Stephen King’s novel in which a writer who gets in a car accident is “cared for” by his self-proclaimed biggest fan — The Hole by Hye-Young Pyun was creepy on page 1 because I was looking for similarities.

Pyun’s novella begins with Oghi coming to consciousness in a hospital. After a serious vehicle accident, he’s been paralyzed and his wife is dead. While he spends eight months at the hospital, the focus turns to what is next. Oghi’s mother committed suicide when she was around forty, and his father died of cancer. His wife is dead, his father-in-law is dead, and he has no children. Both her and his wife were only children. And that leaves Oghi’s mother-in-law, whose potential grief and anger is unexplored from her perspective.

The Hole pushes forward the present story line as the mother-in-law hires a maid to serve as Oghi’s nurse’s aid, and later cares for him directly, much to Oghi’s embarrassment because he uses a bed pan and catheter. He cannot speak, and his left hand moves only a little. Communication is non-existent, so Oghi can’t state his wishes, nor can he reach out to anyone. But to whom would he reach out? Through much effort, Oghi is able to get the phone and dial it using a back scratcher during the long hours when he’s left alone (i.e. neglected). He tries a woman he knows, but the reader does not. The next day, his mother-in-law finds the phone on the floor after Oghi has failed, because he cannot speak. She unplugs the phone and removes it from the room.

Is the story actually creepy, or are we forced to look for the creeps because there are parallels to Misery? In the phone example, the mother-in-law could be afraid that Oghi is going to escape (like that poor, tortured writer), or she may have assumed that the phone was ringing in the middle of the night and bothering him. There are many such examples of something that could be menacing or a misunderstanding.

But why isn’t the mother-in-law more meticulous with her care? Oghi’s wife was the woman’s only child, and she’s a widow. It’s possible she’s learned some incriminating information about Oghi, notes of affairs, perhaps. But then Pyun’s tips the story on its head, reminding readers that when Oghi made full professor, “He received almost no congratulations from his colleagues, so when he saw how happy his mother-in-law was, it’d made him realized that they truly were family.” Does she love him but feel grief? Is she torturing him because her daughter is dead? The author also makes a big deal of the mother-in-law being half-Japanese and growing up in Japan. Is this an issue of that old tension between the Japanese and Koreans after Korea was colonized?

Woven through the present tense are hints of a past between Oghi and his wife. While he moved directly through school and into a professor of cartography, his wife starts and abandons careers and hobbies, until she takes over their garden. It easy to say Oghi is judgmental of his wife for quitting everything, but he supports her, claiming he wants her to be happy and suggesting she try something in addition to gardening to help her grow. She responds, “I stopped growing a long time ago. Only plants keep growing, not people. We stop after a certain age.” Much like his relationship with the mother-in-law, Oghi’s connection to his wife can be read as insidious or conventional.

And what of the titular hole? While the garden was something to stop and see thanks to Oghi’s wife, his eight months in hospital left it dead. Then, the mother-in-law turns to the garden while wearing the wife’s clothes, but instead of planting, she’s ripping up everything and digging a hole. But for what? A koi pond, perhaps? Or not . . .

The Hole by Hye-Young Pyun was translated from Korean into English by Sora Kim-Russell.


  1. Did you like it? And now you’ve left me up in the air, can I write to you and ask how it ends?
    My father was unable to communicate for more than a year after a series of strokes and it would fill me with horror to be in the same situation


    • I’m not sure that i liked it because it wasn’t what I expected. The ending, if I remember correctly, is incredibly vague. You don’t get any answers. I’m sorry to hear about your dad. I’ve read other horror stories about aphasia that were pretty scary yet interesting. I guess at the end of the day I’m not sure what the person who has had the stroke thinks about themselves. Was he able to communicate his feelings? For instance, what if this is the first time in his life that he can just rest? Or, of course, he could be miserable and feel poorly about his life. I would ask Kate, the Australian book blogger. She works in hospice and would likely have excellent insight.


  2. Ooh, this sounds intriguing! I’m not entirely sure I’d want to read it but now I want to know what the truth is. Does it offer a conclusion in the end or does it stay pretty open-ended?


    • If I remember correctly, it’s fairly unclear in a way that I don’t remember being mad about. Also, it’s not really like Misery by Stephen King, but because it says that on the cover, I went in feeling leary!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Ooh, well-written post Melanie. I haven’t read or seen Misery and so would not have thought about it at all while reading this. How much would that affect my reading of it do you think? My guess is that those tensions and questions you mention would be there anyhow though maybe not quite at the beginning?


    • I actually wish I didn’t have Misery in mind to compare it to. I think you would have a totally different experience without the reference, one that is driven by the text and not by expectations of where things are going.


  4. Ohhh this one sounds good! And I like how it has that ambiguousness to it – is the MIL trying to help, or is she trying to isolate and torture him? I will say that hole in the garden doesn’t sound too promising tho LOL


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