The Consultant by Im Seong-Sun

Reviewed by Ian Lipke

Imagine a young writer who never writes that one smash hit. He’s bored and disaffected. He knows his writing is not substandard but can never write that elusive bestseller. Employed by ‘The Company’ in the position of ‘The Consultant’ he is tempted to write using his employer supplied materials. Tempted further he becomes engrossed in techniques for planning murders that are never identified as such but always camouflaged as something else. Yet he knows that his diligent research is taken up and used by the Company to bring about the end of life. He questions his role, but any feelings of guilt are assuaged from his conscience by the large amounts of pay. It is only much, much later that he tries seriously to escape the Company’s clutches.

To replace a medicine here, or change a vital component there requires careful planning if no one is to be held to account. His performance reviews are excellent. But then, when his next victim is someone he knows and cares about, he begins to realise the position he has placed himself in if he should fail to carry out the Company’s will.

The story unfolds to address the quandary The Consultant has the potential to be in. This is not an easy book to read. It is not an unifocused who-done-it. It wanders away from a logical path, introducing aside after aside, character sketch after character sketch, never losing the reader’s interest. The book opens with a discussion of the case of Leon Trotsky. The author disputes Trotsky’s end as a good murder. It is terrorism. By contrast a really good murder is unambiguous regarding the cause of death. Trotsky’s demise was a declaration that no one can stand up to Stalin.

The case of Manager Lee of the author’s own Company is instanced as a preferred result of ‘restructuring’. His early retirement is said to have occurred as a result of changes in the firm’s offerings but his destruction was conducted in a model of subtlety. His death was traced to bad luck, despite the fact that someone had to have been responsible. Notwithstanding this argument, “even those who give strength to what is known as the neck of the middle class must face the vastness of the world when the title written on their business cards disappears” (7). The swing from generalisation to specificity of focus occurs in six short, brilliant words: I also have a business card.

The tale then rumbles on about the business card and its first use. By now the reader should be mystified over the direction the book is moving. Is it moving at all? Can he be forgiven if he skips a few pages? That idea does not occur. This writer has the capability of holding the reader’s attention to the story even though only trivialities are being canvassed. The story soon moves on to tell of the Contractor’s job and provide details of the method by which the Company entered his life.

The circumstances under which the Consultant writes his prizewinning novels is suspect to the western mind but may be familiar to Oriental readers. The point should be made that specifics like these are not important in the purpose for writing the whole book. The writer appears to be examining the fear that large firms hold over the futures of their employees. The book tells of what an employee will accept rather than upset his boss. It is the kowtowing that dependents will practise and the raw power that leaders of an employing institution will release in their grab for continuing power that the book examines.

It is a truly remarkable book.

The Consultant


by Im Seong-Sun

Raven Books

ISBN: 978-1-5266-5415-1

$24.74; 256 pp


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