Vaseline Buddha – Jung Young Moon (Translated by Yewon Jung)
Release Date: 05/07/2016
Publisher (US): Deep Vellum Publishing
Pages: pp 226 RRP: £11.30 (Paperback)
EPub version available here (£9.59)
Novels that use techniques like stream of consciousness writing almost always turn out strange. Strange but memorable, and quite often deeply profound (look at Eimear McBride’s A Girl Is a Half-formed Thing). Jung Young Moon’s Vaseline Buddha is easily one of the strangest novels I’ve ever read, and I’m including the works of Philip K. Dick and Harlan Ellison in that list.
The novel begins with the narrator disturbing a burglar trying to break into his house in the middle of the night. From there, the narrator guides us along a bizarre journey through his thoughts, as he tries to commit to his writing. Along this voyage, the narrator speculates on such topics and sights as famous suicides in history whilst eating his breakfast, an apple with teeth marks he saw in a royal palace in Budapest, Yasser Arafat’s habit of binge watching Tom and Jerry, and T.S. Eliot’s fear of cows, to name but a few. Whilst these seemingly absurd, disjointed and yet surprisingly informative points are offered up frequently during the course of the narrative, the narrator is ultimately thinking about the act of writing itself and what it imposes upon the world. To this end, he describes his work as being like a buddha statuette given to them by a friend, and that he’s in the process of rubbing vaseline on: it’s something ultimately indefinable, unnamed and untitled. It would be easy for a lot of people to be turned off by a meditation like this, but Jung provides some fascinating introspection that’s easily worth the price of admission.
With an accomplished writing and translation career in South Korea, Jung’s musings feel as though they’ve been refined and condensed over years into an almost lyrical contemplation of sorts. It’d be easy to to make comparisons to the likes of Kafka (something that happens all too wearily often with ‘unusual’ works), but Jung has made something all his very own here. The prose is given an almost rhythmic quality at time (as well as what seem like fluctuations in speed at times), no doubt courtesy of the excellent translation efforts of Yewon Jung, which at times make certain sections feel like part of a stand-up routine, but also make the final text into a real page turner.
If you want something vastly different to anything else currently out there, I strongly recommend Vaseline Buddha – I’m looking forward to seeing more of Jung’s works translated into English, and will be keeping an eye on the future output of Deep Vellum. Vaseline Buddha may be a weird novel, but it leaves you thinking in ways you might not have considered before.