Love is like choosing latte over cappuccino
Many authors in Korea who are now part of the literary mainstream first became popular after winning the award, including Yi Mun-yeol, Han Su-san and Park Young-han.
Some even say the award is an official ticket to a front row seat on the local literary scene.
Lee Hong, the 28-year old author whose first published novel was “Girlfriends” has just been awarded the 31st “Today’s Writer Award .“
Believe it or not, “Girlfriends” is the first novel Lee has written. She is the daughter-in-law of the former chairman of The Daily Sports, a Korean newspaper.
“I told my family about my submission after I heard about the award,” she said. “I hadn’t even told my family about the book, not even my husband. Everyone was shocked.”
Lee’s degree from the Seoul Institute of the Arts is in creative writing.
For a long time she dreamt of becoming a writer, but her ambitions were delayed when she got married in 2002 and had a baby.
“I didn’t write with the award in mind,” she says. “I just wanted to see how far I had progressed.”
The story involves three women who are friends of an ordinary office worker named Yu Jin-ho.
“Girlfriends” challenges the rules that are applied in more conventional novels.
In a typical romance novel, Yu would have friendships with the three women that would be undermined when they fight over one man.
Lee, however, takes the love triangle story to another level.
In “Girlfriends” the three women manage to share one man in a friendly manner, creating the possibility of an entirely new social phenomenon.
“Our urban culture is really about sharing different kinds of culture,” she says. “We share an apartment and many other things, which may be why we want exclusive possession of a lover. I wanted to imagine a situation where our sense of ownership and possession breaks apart regarding people and love.”
The novel is upbeat and enjoyable. It bounces around through the culture of cell phones, coffee chains and brand-name goods, in other words the typical Apgujeong lifestyle.
For example after Yu suddenly kisses Han Song-I, the narrator in the novel, all she can do is stare at her cell phone screen in incomprehension.
“Girlfriends” is bold as well, using phrases like “Autumn is a season for car sex.”
“I think modern romance is about taste,” says Lee. “Love as fate is an old story. You choose to love someone, the same way you choose between Starbucks and The Coffee Bean.”
Lee is relaxed about those critics who say her work should be seen as popular fiction in the same vein as teen romance.
“There is nothing I can do about that,” she says.
Her next novel is about second- generation sons of Korean conglomerates.
“I know a little bit about their life,” she hints.
By Sohn Min-ho JoongAng Ilbo