The Hole by Hye-Young Pyun (Translated by Sora Kim-Russell) #BookReview

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Synopsis of The Hole (by Hye-Young Pyun):

A Bestseller in Korea, a Psychological Thriller about Loneliness and the Dark Truths We Try to Bury

In this tense, gripping novel by a rising star of Korean literature, Ogi has woken from a coma after causing a devastating car accident that took his wife’s life and left him paralyzed and badly disfigured. His caretaker is his mother-in-law, a widow grieving the loss of her only child. Ogi is neglected and left alone in his bed. His world shrinks to the room he lies in and his memories of his troubled relationship with his wife, a sensitive, intelligent woman who found all of her life goals thwarted except for one: cultivating the garden in front of their house. But soon Ogi notices his mother-in-law in the abandoned garden, uprooting what his wife had worked so hard to plant and obsessively digging larger and larger holes. When asked, she answers only that she is finishing what her daughter started.

Evoking Herman Koch’s The Dinner and Stephen King’s Misery, award-winning author The Hole by Hye-young Pyun is a superbly crafted and deeply unnerving novel about the horrors of isolation and neglect in all of its banal and brutal forms. As Ogi desperately searches for a way to escape, he discovers the difficult truth about his wife and the toll their life together took on her.

First Sentence:

“Oghi slowly opened his eyes. The light was blinding. Something flashed at the center of a grayish haze. He close his eyes, opened them again. The difficulty of this assured him.” The Hole by Hye-Young Pyun

My Opinion of The Hole:

The Hole by Hye-Young Pyun (translated by Sora Kim-Russell) is all about an impending doom gradually and stealthily creeping up from behind you.

It was a great read but where I felt like I needed to run out of the room to freedom!

Ohgi wakes up after being a coma. Which is all good but he can’t move or speak, only being able to communicate with the world by blinking once for yes and two for no.

This is the start of his nightmare…

(Check out this meta-fictional murder by Han Yujoo – The impossible Fairytale)

His injuries are because of a car crash involving him and his wife, who died in the car accident. The only person left to take care of him is his mother-in-law.

That would be okay except for all the skeletons in the closet in his relationship with not only his wife, but also with his wife’s family.

” ‘Widows and widowers aren’t just to be pitied. Once you experience it, you find it has its good sides. Do you know what the best part of being a widow is?’

She looked around at them. Even S, who normally had so much to say, was keeping his mouth shut and trying to read her mood.”
The Hole by Hye-Young Pyung

(Don’t know where to start with Korean literature? Check out our post – “A Beginner’s Guide to Korean Literature” to help get you started!)

Lacking movement and speech, Ohgi can only blink and gurgle to communicate and assert his will on what happens to him.

At the start of The Hole his mother-in-law seems like a kind person who stays by his side in the hospital. She also helps move him back to his place and arranges a live-in caretaker to look after him.

Ohgi also starts being able to move his upper body which seems to suggest that recovery is up ahead. However, as the novel progresses we see the skeletons come out of the closet one by one.

Where Ohgi merely wants to get better and continue his work as a university lecturer, his mysterious and somewhat strange mother-in-law begins to scrap away Ohgi’s hopes one by one.

(Love Thrillers from Korea? Check out The Plotters by Un-Su Kim here!)

The troubling nature of his mother-in-law is represented by Ohgi’s memories of his wife talking about her own mum. Ohgi’s wife talks of her mother being half-Japanese and often mumbling to herself in Japanese. She also talks of her mother suppressing her hatred and resentment towards her husband due to their own family secret. In effect, although Oghi’s wife is somewhat similar to her mother she too seems to be distant from both parents.

Ohgi himself begins to hear his mother-in-law mumbling the same strange string of Japanese while stuck movement-less in his bed. This sheds light that the woman who holds the power over his life as a person with a disability is not as kind as she seems. This begins to ramp up in the second half of the novel while his mother-in-law talks to his former work colleagues:

“Are you talking about a koi pond? That sounds wonderful.”
“Are living things wonderful? They’re filthy and disgusting. They’ll scrabble like crazy to try to survive inside that cramped hole…”
The Hole by Hye-Young Pyung

Hye-Young Pyung’s Use of Looming Disaster

The looming dark ending of the The Hole (by Hye-Young Pyung) is overshadowed by a dark black spot or hole at the start of each chapter that begins to grow darker and larger as you continue through the book.

The ending seems a little weak by western standards. But if you carefully read through the book you can also connect the dots and see the larger picture.

This is what makes The Hole by Hye-Young Pyung so frightening. You are overwhelmingly impotent in trying to divert the train wreck waiting to happen. All you can do is watch it happen in slow-motion in the same way Ohgi is stuck in his bed motionless and speechless.

(Want a great horror book? Check out The Good Son by You-Jeong Jeong here!)

As the video below describes, the outward appearances of people and their inner thoughts can be devastatingly different (I am here referring to Ohgi’s mother-in-law; I know the book’s location is in Korea).

Emotions stuck within people’s hearts and minds cannot always be expressed openly outward. But like a sponge full of water, if you continue to repress emotions they will seep out through your actions and micro-expressions.

You need to see what’s written between the lines to see how deeply involved the mother-in-law is in destroying Ohgi’s remaining life. In any case, you will always be able to live in and feel the stranglehold of Ohgi’s constant despair and hopelessness in attempting to escape from his impotent life.


I loved reading The Hole by Hye-Young Pyun (translated by Sora Kim-Russell).

I was hooked on that feeling of hopelessness and despair in attempting to wake up from a nightmare that endlessly continues day-to-day. This book is one that consists of an entirely new world away from the typical horror or thriller full of bullets and murderers.

In fact, this book is for one who loves psychological spins, rattles, and turns.

(Have you read the award-winning novel Pachinko by Min Jin Lee yet? Check it out now!)

This book is for also one who loves the psychological roller coaster flying up and down. You will attempt to get off the ride screaming and crying but loving every second, yelling at the top of your lungs “let’s do that again!” once it ends.

The Hole by Hye-Young Pyun discusses the new life of someone who wakes up disabled, but this is not a triumph story. This is a sickening journey of someone trapped not just physically, but also mentally within their own life mistakes and failures.

Strap yourself in for the ride and don’t forget: there are no stop buttons in this type of psychological thriller.

My Rating: 4/5

Find all details about The Hole (written by Hye-Young Pyun and translated by Sora Kim-Russell) on Goodreads and Amazon.

A.J. McMahon
(P.S. Got any other books you want me to review? Then…)

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Affiliate Disclosure: As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. If you choose to purchase after clicking a link, I may receive a commission at no extra cost to you.

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