As we continue our look at Suspicious Maids, by Jingyu Park (박진규의”수상한 식모들” ), it’s becoming clearer that the story is very fragmented and doesn’t seem to have at this point any overarching storyline. It seems to flow from Kyeongho’s daily life into moments of hallucination and back again without any warning. The only telltale sign that this is happening is that things start to not make any sense. I’m not sure how to describe the story in that case, since there is a lot of insignificant detail seemingly scattered all over the place. But one thing I can say is that Kyeongho is definitely a special type of unreliable narrator. Even so, there are glimpses of interesting and strange things happening here.
So picking up where we left off, Seonjae is planning for college and wants to travel alone in Europe, but her parents are strongly against this plan. They are concerned Seonjae will get the attention of foreign men because she’s kind of glamorous, though Kyeongho thinks they are naïve about Seonjae’s experience with men. Since her parents won’t give her money to buy a plane ticket, she is looking for a part time job. Seonjae ends up with a brief job voicing one of the maids in the very maid simulation game that Kyeongho and his father are fascinated by.
At this point, we get a better description of the game. The game is for adults, and there is a choice of characters the player can be, one referred to as president and the other older brother. They employ a maid, who only cooks and cleans for them in the beginning and seems rather haughty. As the game continues, the maid and player character fall in love. There are obstacles for them to overcome, like the player’s interfering wife, a flower boy who is hanging around the maid as the player’s competition, STDs, etc. If the player’s wife discovers the maid, she disappears, so the player has to figure out how to keep her from discovering his affair. The player also has a few methods of suppressing the flower boy who is also after the maid, namely the player can beat him up or rape him to get rid of him. Very strong stuff.
When Seonjae finishes her voice recording, she talks a bit with Kyeongho, but soon the scene transforms from a conversation about mundane things like his addiction to the video game and their couple homepage reappearing to a completely peculiar situation. They both suddenly end up in this scenario where they are meeting with a woman president where Seonjae is trying to be recruited as a suspicious maid. They have coffee together and discuss how she can infiltrate households as a double agent. Contradictory information comes out about Seonjae’s parents in this chapter as well, and Seonjae is accused of lying about them. As they are talking together, Kyeongho starts to pant, and he senses the horde of mice suddenly coming down on him like flowing water. He tries to reorient himself by thinking about his name and his family. He’s having something like an out of body experience, ending with the realization that Seonjae stuck a towel in his mouth to help him handle the seizure he is having. The chapter ends with him gasping for air.
In the next chapter, Kyeongho talks about various Korean movies featuring maids. One is the 1960 film by director Kim Kiyeong called “Housemaid” (“하녀”):
Poster for Kim Kiyeong’s 1960 Film “The Housemaid”
This story seems to be where the author gets the strong connection between maids and rats since the Wikipedia description notes that the femme fatale maid in this movie catches rats with her bare hands and uses rat poison as a method of murder and suicide. I have never seen the film, so I have nothing to add to that analysis, but here’s a really interesting analysis of the housemaid motif in Korean cinema:
He also mentions the film “Woman of Fire”(“화녀”), which seems like a similar type of film made in Korea in 1971 by director Yoon Yeojeong and remade in 1982 by director Kim Kiyeong:
Kyeongho connects this fascination with maids to some hardwired male sexual fantasy. Other movies that come up in this chapter include “A Maid’s Confession” (“하녀의 고백”) from 1963:
Another film the author mentions is “팔도며느리” from 1970 – I’m not sure of the translation of the movie title into English:
The next chapter or two seems to be another hallucination of Kyeongho and Seonjae going to a house to interrogate a maid there named Sunae. They question her about being a suspicious maid, and the mice make an appearance again. He wants to know why the maids are using the mice to threaten him, and she somehow connects the mice, or perhaps more appropriately rats, to some of the maids who use it as a guardian animal. But this is the section where things get even more bizarre if that’s possible. Kyeongho sees a small test tube filled with an aqueous solution that holds a creature that looks like a mouse with a long tail curled up in the tube. Then he’s on the veranda with his family having a fairly normal conversation that turns into something more philosophical as he goes in and out of some hallucination talking to the female president and Sunae. In this part, he mentions a few drugs in relation to the hallucinations, but I’m not sure what they are.
The next chapter, “Bathtub”, shows Kyeongho in a bathtub at Sunae’s house – he seems to like to take baths in places other than his home and used the bath at Seonjae’s in an earlier chapter too – and details about this are mixed with hallucinations of the rat in the test tube, visions of a young girl walking with him and being rescued by servicemen in helicopters, and conversations with Sunae which include memories of the Gwangju Uprising in 1980:
Photo by Rhythm – Mangwol Dong Cemetery Where 1980 Protestors Are Buried
This chapter ends with really intriguing imagery of ten women dressed in black hanboks with black headdresses and black veils carrying knives. They apparently are the suspicious maids, and one of them takes Sunae by the hand. I’m trying to remember when I’ve ever seen the photo of any Korean woman in a black hanbok, and I can’t think of any, so this image seems to me at least to be rather sinister.
The last chapter I’m going to get to today is a chapter split into four subsections returning to the subject of the suspicious maids’ connection to history and myth. Some of this the author connects to a historical Korean ideology of vengeance, but he also connects the maids to the myth of Orestes:
Orestes and Electra
It looks like there is no overarching storyline, that it is a rather strange mix of surreal visions, mundane interactions between Kyeongho and his family, and historical or pop cultural references as he elaborates on the theme of the suspicious maids. The subjects are constantly changing, and the level of cultural detail seems to be unusually high compared to most novels. Perhaps the style could be considered stream of consciousness, I’m not entirely sure. It makes the novel very difficult material to summarize or gain any momentum with, though it is very interesting. I’ll see what I can make heads or tails of it in my last post on the novel next time.
Part three of a four part series.