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Review: A Feast of Fears and Fetishes in Bora Chung's Cursed Bunny

By Ananya Roy

It is that time of the year again, when shadows come alive, graves open and our fears manifest into nightmarish realities. In our cupboards, under our beds, beyond the visibly invisible treetops, deep in the darkest chambers of our hearts. Bora Chung, in her 2022 short-listed Booker Prize gem Cursed Bunny, does more than scaring the wits out of her readers, only she does not; she does not scare, she makes the fear transform into myriad forms that manifest and exist beyond the conscious, into the realm of the unconscious and limbic. Released back in 2007 in Korean, Chung's terrifying yet palpably visceral novel is more than a categorically recycled horror fiction. It is a critique of the claustrophobic Asian society steeped in greed and patriarchal totalitarianism and subliminal desires that are borderline unacceptable, sinister, and catastrophic. Human anxiety and fear of the imminent and instinct lie in the core of this short-story collection. Each chapter symbolizes human production, consumption, and regurgitation of the same sentiments, rerunning the same mistakes, and discovering frigid miserable loneliness at the bottom of everything.

A purple and pink bunny
Photo: Bora Chung, Honford Star

Chung's approach to myth and folklore in a labyrinth of abject abstracts circling humans might be repulsive, crude and disinteresting but isn't that what horror does in the first place? Make us become aware of our inherent, innermost, and internal reflections that we have been hiding so well, until the glass goes C-R-A-C-K! Cursed Bunny came out at a time when the Republic of Korea, AKA South Korea, was rapidly becoming globalized. Overcome by rapid metropolization, its citizens became unable to bear the overarching after-effects of the sudden transition, hence 'Hell Joseon' became popularized. Voicing their discontent over anomalies in government policies, lack of sympathy of the rigid patriarchal administration for the working class, and classic case of unequal distribution of wealth, biased strategies meant to benefit only the rich, gradually injected abject fear, anxiety, and hopelessness among the common folks. An eerie sense of dread penetrated and perpetrated every corner of society that was promised and considered to be a haven for its residents. Every story aims to narrate a tale with a warped prototype against which the reader is forced to come to terms with fact and fiction.

In the world of Chung, a 'head' regularly comes out of the toilet and continues to address the woman whose excreta gave birth to it as its mother. Oddly resembling the woman's body conditions "the Head" would turn red when the woman menstruated and continue to grow into a proper head from a deformed lump to that of a half-human body, and finally to a mirror reflection of the woman's younger self. In a horrifying turn of events, 'The Head', now a younger version of the woman, reappears only to flush her older, original, human self down the toilet amidst bewildering confusion. As it goes on to replace her in the real world, it prompts us to ask in utter dismay whether this is the norm. 'The Embodiment' strongly resonates with the oppression and suppression of the female body, femininity, and individuality. A young woman becomes pregnant due to over-consumption of oral contraceptive pills, a negative effect in an unethically morphed world, and is threatened by a female doctor to 'Find the Child a Father', or things might go south. Bullied into following the dictums of a male-dominated social order the woman tries her best to get a father for her unborn child, only to be tricked, betrayed, and forced to give birth to the 'baby', that soon "disintegrated into a pool of liquid blood".

The 'Cursed Bunny' narrates the tale of neo-capitalism, greed, and destruction of a power-hungry Korean business mogul at the paws of a rabbit 'fetish', a curse created solely to cast irreversible damage. Majority of the stories bear solemn testimony to human desires running out of hand like in 'Snare', where a man harvests an injured fox with golden fur only to lose his all to greed, incest, and cannibalism.

There is a perennial echo - akin to death knell, cautioning humans against becoming deviant and turning into monstrous beasts, slowly being lured into the labyrinth of minotaur-like-death trap, out of which there is no respite. Stuck and trudging in a muck of depravity and derangement, all of Chung's unnamed narrators' final plea for help end in an abysmal limbo of perpetual penance and atonement. From forcing women to adopt expensive and exhausting cosmetic procedures to depriving them of their agency and voice to name a few, Chung's stories are terrifying when decrypted. Beneath the garb of supernatural elements, surrealism and magic realism, Cursed Bunny acts as a sledgehammer driving the nail of doom and destruction to the reader's subliminal psyche.


About the Writer:

Ananya Roy is perpetually an anxiety-induced, silently-loud writer of contemporary, pop, and grey-cell stirring intellectually riveting topics. A student of literature, independent scholar, and virtual detective, the majority of her time is occupied by summoning the dead, spooky, and gory out of books and sites, that are further anatomically analysed to suit her lust for the uncanny and terrifying! Give her some dough and she will make you a thing, since there’s always some Halloween waiting to be decoded and decrypted 'round the corner!


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