Member Reviews

"The Owl Cries" (서쪽 숲에 갔다), by Pyun Hye-young (편혜영), was originally written in Korean in 2012 . It was translated into English by Sora Kim-Russell and published by Arcade Publishing, an imprint of Skyhorse Publishing, in 2023.

This is Pyun Hye-young's fourth novel translated into English to date, as well as the fourth novel written by her that I read. She is one of my favorite authors, whose writing style and hopelessness infused story lines continue to impress and keep me immersed in every time. "The Owl Cries" definitely did not let down.

Like in her other novels, there lurks an almost supernatural eeriness all throughout. The novel is set in a small town, surrounded by vast woods. It sets off in a small ranger station, where a lawyer comes by inquiring about his brother, who used to be the ranger at the station and disappeared. Throughout the search for the former ranger, some of the stories of the different locals from the small town become intertwined and lead to what was for me, an unexpected resolution.

I really enjoyed reading "The Owl Cries." It was a good blend of suspense, character study, and psychological thriller. It definitely felt like a slow burn, but that is very characteristic of Pyun Hye-young's writing.

For Pyun Hye-young fans, there's exciting news! 🎉
A new collection of short stories, "To the Kennels: And Other Stories", translated by Sora Kim-Russell and Heinz Insu Fenkl, will be coming out on October 1st, 2024, at Arcade Publishing as well! I'm so excited! 😍

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This is an atmospheric and uneasy book. It has a few different sections told from different viewpoints. I liked the first part best, which was a mystery of a missing forest ranger. The largest section focused on the current ranger who is struggling with alcoholism and family struggles. I just found this character and story so depressing, and I felt towards the end he was being gaslit, but it's a bit of an unreliable narrator situation so I'm not really sure. There is also a section that delves into the time before the missing ranger, some long held secrets in the town. Throughout the whole thing, the forest is a looming and dark presence. It's a slow book, and I didn't really feel it paid off.

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It wasn't my cup of tea. The story is dark. The character is unlikable. I tried to finish it but it's just 3 stars for me.

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This a dark and atmospheric novel that begins like a missing person noir but from part 2 on it becomes something else, I’m not sure what. There’s lots of intriguing characters, a dark unknowable forest and some obvious violent crimes. There’s also characters with regrets and failings. There’s still mystery at the end and it’s a slow ride and in some books this would annoy me but I really enjoyed this one.

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Atmospheric, claustrophobic, but ultimately a slightly underwhelming horror story. A lawyer investigates the disappearance of his brother in a weird forest-dominated town, and then as events spiral we see things through some of the oddball characters who live there. Interesting but just lacked a little something.

3.5 stars, not quite 4.

(With thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for an ARC of this title.)

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A slow burn. A book about people who have made the wrong choices in life and are now stagnant with no prospects of a better future. Almost every character is an alcoholic. None of them are likeable. The village has secrets and they will do anything to keep it that way. I've read two other of Pyun's books and liked them much better than this. This is a depressing story and I do like a good depressing book but I found the ending predictable and pointless. I did think it was readable and it managed to keep me engaged.

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I did not enjoy this. I wanted to. I tried to. I should have, based on the description. But it was just not good. The writing was mid, the characters were bland, the story felt stale.

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The Owl Cries is a literary horror that is set in a small South Korean logging community during the winter and really hones in on some of the people who live there. The overarching mystery is a missing forest ranger who makes sure that people stay out of the forest because it’s not safe in the winter. But the real purpose of this story is the psychology and motivations of the people who live there.

I could see moments of brilliance in the writing but it wasn’t consistent. I love a good deep dive into why a character makes the choices they do but sometimes the book leaned too heavily into it. I also feel like the main plot of the story would get lost at times. Pyun did always come back to it but sometimes it took a bit to get there.

Pyun is a talented writer though and the atmosphere she created was so insidious. She calls her writing anxiety fiction and it is an appropriate label. I could vividly feel myself inside the characters head and feel what they were feeling. It was an unsettling feeling that is always the mark of a good horror.

The Owl Cries is a book that is not going to be for many people. Literary horror is one of my favorite genres but this book isn’t the best at it. Although this is a translated work so it most likely works better in its original language. If you are willing to work at reading this and patiently tease out the story than I think you will find some enjoyment. I will be reading more from Pyun in the future because the idea of anxiety fiction intrigues me.

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I have enjoyed Hye-young Pyun's other books and was happy to read this.
This book is full of unlikable people and I am here for it.

I just reviewed The Owl Cries by Hye-young Pyun. #NetGalley

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Liked, but didn't love. It was a struggle to get through at parts, but I do think it will have an audience. In the right hands, I think this is a very special book.

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Thank you to Skyhorse Publishing for an ARC of The Owl Cries in exchange for an unbiased review.

I really loved the idea of this book, but I don’t think it delivers. There are too many ever changing POVs, the timeline is confusing, and the reveal is a weird let down. I also think the translation may not be the best? This reads really clunky and awkward.

I am not sure what we were supposed to take from the book and the motivations. The reveal left me somewhat more confused, why would any of the cast of characters be in this deep for something that anti-climactic? There were also times where the reader is left just as, if not more, confused than the characters themselves about what actually happened.

Since I don’t speak Korean, I am not sure if this is purely an issue in translation or of the writing itself. I found this book somewhat confusing in both the what and why. I wouldn’t recommend this, unfortunately. My rating would be a 2.5/5

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Weird little book that is thoroughly disorienting to read...

This book starts out as a mystery, then morphs into an... existential crisis? The mystery premise is that our main character gets a new job as a forest ranger in a small (and creepy) village. One day, a man comes poking around the ranger station looking for his missing brother. Turns out the missing brother was the previous forest ranger. This news makes our ranger concerned for his own safety. He becomes increasingly preoccupied with this constant trickle of, what he perceives to be, strange occurrences in the forest, village, and ranger station. This paranoia takes root in his mind, and he starts drinking to cope. From that point, he becomes pretty unreliable as a narrator, and the book becomes more about his state of mind than anything else. In addition, he might be being manipulated by those around him, so it becomes nearly impossible to know what to believe.

This isn't a book where you know how the character is feeling because the author writes 'he was confused', or 'he was anxious'. You know exactly what he's feeling because you are feeling it too. Suffering right along with him. It's both the book's blessing, and its curse. To me, it's a sign of good writing when it evokes strong emotion. At the same time, it was not fun to read something that just made me feel anxious and paranoid and confused.

My landing place with this is that I respect it, but I didn't really enjoy it. I'd recommend it to anyone that likes a lot of ambiguity, is okay with open endings, and if you like horror novels where the horrific aspect is more about the person being trapped within their own mind and feelings, as opposed to coming from an external threat.

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The Owl Cries is the upcoming English translation of a Korean novel by Hye-young Pyun. A chilling atmospheric psychological thriller that defies genre conventions, this novel is a deep exploration of loneliness.

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Do you ever read a book and after you finish it you're like what was the point? I have that feeling with this one. The Owl Cries has the premise of a classic thriller mystery story with a missing person and a small town with colorful characters yet there's no suspense. We're told a lot about lives of the different people living in the town and mostly it just feels like padding to the story.

There's some nice writing here and there and some good points surrounding alcoholism and capitalism, but it's not enough to make the disjointed narrative of the plot to feel rewarding.

Overall this book made me loose interest to one of my favorite hobbies that is reading and if you decide to pick this one up I hope you get more out of it than I did.

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A curious and suspenseful tale of a strange forest in South Korea and the people who work in the nearby small town. A story of regret and attempted redemption in an opaque world where the truth is slippery. This book has stayed with me for weeks after finishing it.

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What an eerie little book! If you thought small towns with dark secrets were creepy, throw in a spooky forest on the edges of town and see how well you sleep at night!

This was a fun read. I loved all of the characters but they felt imbalanced and it made the novel feel not fully formed. The ending left me a little cold but the writing was evocative enough to keep me thoroughly engrossed throughout the whole story.

On the whole, The Owl Cries was a lot simpler and less terrifying than the previous Hye-young Pyun I’ve read, and I think that makes it a great entry point for getting into her work.

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The Owl Cries is a prime example of high potential and substandard execution. Part of this may be because of its origin in a different language — how it's easy to lose a lot of a work's strength and beauty in translation — but I do think that the work suffers from a multitude of missteps. Mild spoilers ahead.

The premise, in and of itself, is intriguing. A forest ranger goes missing and his estranged brother investigates. The forest is dauntingly beautiful and untamed, and the populace of the adjacent town is not exactly who you'd be eager to invite to Sunday brunch. Trust no one, trust nothing. Great! Let's solve this mystery!

Except, there doesn't appear to be strong incentive to really solve anything. For one, the novel's protagonist, who ought to be the very individual who anchors the readers to the story, is not firmly established until the second part. The first part relies heavily on a series of perspective shifts, vignettes that touch upon characters that ought to be kept in mind, while also alluding to omitted details regarding the answers we seek. The problem, however, is that these omissions are so blatant and so frequent that it makes the third part feel like a massive, continuous info dump. The descriptions may at times be vivid and enticing (particularly regarding nature) but simply put, there is more effort placed into stating the backstory than there is into the creation of a truly mysterious, unsettling environment.

Plot presentation aside, I also think that the translation was... For lack of a better term, kind of "clunky." Repetition can be a powerful tool in making a piece more poetic, but there are times when it comes across as wearisome. One example that comes to mind: there's a mention of "young men" becoming "old men"; would it not be more effective to make the comparison between "boys" and "(old) men?" I understand the importance of staying true to the original text, but I do also think that there ought to be some space to allow for reinterpretations, so as to account for the distinctions between languages.

I have seen The Owl Cries classified as a "thriller," and so I fully went into it expecting that my interest would be swept away in an instant. Instead, what I found was difficulty in sitting through it, so much so that it took me several attempts to do so. Due to the overall presentation of the story, I would actually go so far as to re-classify this read as more of "general fiction" and/or "drama."

Thank you to the author, the publisher (Skyhouse Publishing), and NetGalley for providing the opportunity to read an eARC of this work.

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Clearly well written and the translation is very well done. But the story did not grab my attention. I don't know what to say about it. Very grateful for the opportunity to read this in advance. I was really excited as I love both the writer and translator, but I think I'm just not the writer reader for the book after all. 4 stars anyway because I appreciate how cohesive and coherent the writing is. It's extremely good writing, unfortunately, I'm not the right reader. I know others have mentioned or complained about how this was too dark for them, but I actually wanted and craved for it desperately to be a lot darker. So dark it verges onto comical and absurd.

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Made it to 60% on this one, so I’m considering it read.

This is about a forest ranger who goes missing. His brother comes looking for him, but no one wants to admit to having seen him. Things spiral from there…

This one reminded me of The Whispers by Audrey Audrain which I DNFed just recently. I thought I was getting a thriller, but I got drama instead. Same here - there’s so much more backstory and drama going on than mystery/thriller, which was disappointing.

My intrigue varied a lot which helped me get to 60% instead of DNFing earlier. Whenever something sinister and mysterious happened I’d perk up, but then there would be lots of repetition and domestic drama again.

I enjoyed The Hole, but I see this is actually an older book by the author. It’s only newly translated. So I think I’d try whatever she writes next but maybe not any other backlist.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the ARC.

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It was an interesting thriller, but too slow-burn for my liking, It pushes the genre's boundaries but didn't immerse me with the plot or characters' fates. An ok read, I guess.

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