This is a 2010 novel from the Korean novelist Un-Su Kim about a group of assassins working in the shadows. This is a very wheels within wheels kind of book, and it’s not really a spy or assassins book so much as a portrayal of modern forms of violence, power, and money. We follow Reseng, one assassin within the, let’s call it, economy of assassination. What becomes clear is that somewhere in the last 60 or 70s years, assassination has become a neoliberally dictated and derived as every other part of the modern world. There’s still state power, obviously, but the state itself has become increasingly more decentralized. So while South Korea was under a dictatorship for two decades, the emerging corporate-controlled democracy had the same elements of power, just controlled by different forces. Moreover, this new control was a systemic structure, not a hierarchical one. So in a way, this new world view is assassination via Foucault.
That’s the world we’re dealing with. And when the novel is discussing and explaining this world, it’s really fascinating. Unfortunately it’s doing a lot more too, that I didn’t find nearly as compelling.
I think this is a novel that is stuck within its own ideas. So while exploring those ideas, we’re on board. But when those ideas have to give over to the machinations of the plot, the plot becomes quite staid. A more plot-focused book might have ended up being a more forceful way to explore the neoliberal underworld the book deals in.