'If I Had Your Face' by Frances Cha - book review
I read so many books and never get round to reviewing them so now I've decided I really must change that.
I only read what I really want to read, and I hope that I will always respect the huge amount of time and effort that goes into the writing of any novel.
So - to my first book review!!! Whoop, whoop.
I bought 'If I had Your Face' on Bookbub, primarily because I always love reading books set in new and unfamiliar places. (I think lots of readers feel like this - many reviews of my latest novel, Out of the Mountain's Shadow' have said that they have never read about Albania before and they really found it fascinating.) I don't think I've ever read anything set in South Korea before, so I was intrigued.
Well, whilst I enjoyed the book, I don't think the South Korean tourist board or government will be thrilled by its portrayal of their country. My overriding feeling on completing it was whether there is anyone nice in the whole country! I guess we are supposed to empathise with the numerous female characters but I'm afraid that I really didn't like any of them. Cha appears to want to expose the myriad hypocrisies of South Korean society and she does this masterfully - it ends up being somewhere I'm profoundly grateful not to have to live in! I'm sure that the truth is that the UK or anywhere else is no different but I personally don't know anyone who works in prostitution, and I also don't know anyone as fabulously wealthy as Cha's rich kids. In that sense, the book is reminiscent of Crazy Rich Asians - unbelievable wealth touted around by people who seem to have absolutely no morals or redeeming features of any kind.
I guess I also don't know anyone who's had plastic surgery - at least, not the invasive kind that involves surgery - I'm not counting Botox and fillers here. Yet in South Korea it sounds as if it's regarded as an essential part of life, as normal and necessary as getting your hair cut. I've read in the news recently about all the young people in the UK following social media influencers and going abroad to have surgeries such as bum lifts etc, so obviously I know that it's a thing here, and an ever-growing thing. Years ago I lived in Brazil and at that time, Rio de Janeiro had the highest number of plastic surgeons in the world. I'm sure it makes me terribly old-fashioned but I can't help hating a culture that tells women that they must constantly undergo painful and life-threatening procedures in order to fit into some impossible standard of beauty set by - wait for it! - men.
My eldest daughter was born with a cleft lip so I have reason to be hugely grateful for plastic surgeons - but having seen what is entailed in just this one procedure, I cannot understand that anyone would put themselves through this out of choice. But that brings me round to the beginning again - women are doing this in the hope it will bring them happiness, because they've been indoctrinated into thinking that the only way to be happy is to look 'beautiful' and like everyone else. In Cha's book , the 'double eye-lid' surgery seems to epitomise everything that is wrong with this approach. Not only are the women trying to look a certain way because that is the way someone has declared to be the best way, but they are also having surgery to correct facial features that are genetic and biological.
OK, rant over!!!
None of this is about the writing, more about the society Cha is depicting which I did not find myself warming to. As I say, I found myself perfectly entertained by the book, finishing it quickly. However, for me it was a little too disparate - a collection of vignettes that I found didn't have a huge amount of depth. The characters are one-dimensional and the ending was disappointing in that it wasn't really an ending, seeming to imply that everything was going to carry on just as before, though perhaps the aim was to reveal some kind of increased solidarity between the various female characters.
Overall, if you would like a window into a totally different world and to read something by an up-and-coming woman writer, I do recommend this. If Cha is writing another book set in South Korea, I'd love to get some more context - some of the country's history and some deeper understanding of how it became the society it now is.