Cover Image: The Cabinet

The Cabinet

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Member Reviews

Loved this! Can’t believe Un-us Kim is not more widely translated in the UK. Will definitely look out for any future books.
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3.5 stars
I love bizarre and this was crammed to the brim with wonderful weirdness. 
It begins as quite a playful and funny story, but eventually transitions into something that is a dark social commentary. I did find it choppy in places as the chapters were pretty short and it almost reads like short stories within a bigger plot. Everything is linked together by a central story, but I would've preferred for this to have been a bit stronger. 

I thoroughly enjoyed the oddity of this story!

Many thanks to the author, publisher, and Netgalley for sending me a copy of this book in return for an honest review.
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This was very different than my usual read, but in a refreshing way. So many different, quirky stories. Not necessarily a cohesive novel, but more disjointed than that. Definitely worth checking out, especially if you want a break from your usual genre.
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The Cabinet is a fantastical novel about a cabinet that holds case files about a group of unconventional people termed as "symptomers" and how they create a whirlwind in the life of Mr. Kong, who has been assigned to take complete responsibility of keeping account of their lives in Earth. Mr. Kong's interaction with these so-called outcasts reveal many truths about life and living it to the fullest, which is relatable to everyone present in this time and age. I personally thoroughly enjoyed the wry humour that was presented in this book and also thought that the author's use of these characters to reveal so much about what we are missing in life was brilliant. Time as a construct and it's interpretation is a central theme that is discussed many times during the course of this book.

Though this book may seem to present a fantastical tale through some very bizarre characters, what it actually does is ask questions about how we as humans choose to live and use our time in this world. I loved it and would highly recommend it everyone!
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I love the short stories throughout this book, it was so well done and I loved how Un-Su Kim created such wild and vicarious characters in every single one. I need to get my hands on a physical copy of this because it was truly amazing and I definitely want to revisit it.
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The Cabinet – Un-Su Kim (Translated by Sean Lin Halbert) 


I was given a copy of this book by the publisher in order to provide a review. 


Un-Su Kim is a Korean author residing in South Korea who has written several acclaimed novels (“The Plotters” and “Sang chaud”) and won Korea’s most esteemed literary prize – Munhakdongne Novel Prize. 


“The Cabinet” is not an ordinary cabinet, I mean yes, it’s a cabinet that holds documents and such, but the documents this cabinet contains – well let me say that what's in these documents is definitely far from ordinary. 

This cabinet is filled with documents that contain extraordinary stories about humans, humans with not so ordinary abilities, just strange and unexplained behaviours and for lack of a better word, powers. 

So, when the person in charge of looking after the office, Mr Kong, discovers what's really in the cabinet – everything changes for him. 

“The Cabinet” is a very different fiction novel to the ones that I normally read. There was a bit of back and forth between past and present and then a lot of one-off stories about some of these seemingly ordinary human beings and their strange abilities. It wasn’t a bad read but I think the format that the story was set out in just made it hard for me to really get into the story – the book really wasn’t my cup of tea, but that doesn’t mean there are other readers out there who wouldn’t really enjoy it.
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The Cabinet is the story of Kong, a deadbeat college graduate who manages to secure a pointless administrative job at a research institute and ends up breaking into a mysterious filing cabinet (Cabinet 13) out of sheer boredom. The files inside introduce him to the 'symptomers' (people with strange mutant/supernatural abilities and physical characteristics, like trees growing out of their fingers or the ability to sleep for years) and land him an unofficial job as the cabinet's caretaker and as a researcher/provider of emotional support to symptomers.

The narrative switches between Kong's life (how he got involved with Cabinet 13 and his work with its subjects) and digressions about the symptomers themselves and their various conditions. As such, the book is episodic and not particularly plot-driven, which might be a deal-breaker for some people. Personally, I found it hard to get invested in the story, though the weirdness of the symptomers and dashes of black comedy kept me reading. That said, I would have liked more detail about the real world impact of some of their 'symptoms'. How do torporers (who sleep for years at a time) live, for example, if they can't hold down or get jobs? Kong's outsider perspective kind of limited how much the book delved into issues like that. Some of the body horror (especially the lizard tongue woman and the Ginkgo tree man, not to mention the torture scene in the third act), was a bit much for me, personally, but your mileage may vary. The tonal shift at the end came a little out of nowhere and I didn't find the ending particularly satisfying, though that might just be me. The banality of it all (Kong starts and ends the book bored and frustrated) makes a neat point about the arbitrariness of contemporary measures of success and unfulfilling (work)lives, after all. There was also some disturbing, off-hand misogyny littered throughout the text, especially directed towards one of Kong's co-workers, though women generally don't do much in the story and mostly seem to exist as adjuncts to men.

Still, The Cabinet had some pretty interesting commentary on capitalism, conformity, corporate culture and toxic work environments. It may not have been my cup of tea, but readers who enjoy a little (a lot of) weirdness will probably get a kick out of The Cabinet.

(Also, special thanks to Angry Robot for kindly re-sending me an e-copy of the book when the one I was originally sent expired. Thank you very much!)
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Translation seemed kinda weird. (No.i'm not in a position of complaining about sentence structure and all.  I, myself am not a native English speaker.  I learned English as my third language. )  but the flow wasn’t fully there. Starting was magical realistic way then it was something else altogether.  I'm quite a way to pin point what didn’t work out for me.  It's just weird. That's all.. Given better timing or translation i guess I'd have enjoyed it better.. I believe Original one has more nuance in it
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A greatly weird novel of stories of quirky people with different abilities. Loved the quirkiness and the message it transmits.
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This is a well written book. It has some fine lines, a few well-conceived set pieces, a fair share of perceptive and insightful observations, and lean dialogue. That said, try as I might I found neither the characters nor the overall narrative engaging enough to arouse or hold my curiosity and attention. As a consequence, it doesn't seem fair to write much more of a review, apart from encouraging interested readers to give the book a try.
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I loved Kim's previous book, The Plotters, and was delighted by The Cabinet. It is the most delightful shade of strange and unexpected and broadened my brain in all the right ways. I love the clever uniqueness of the folks in the book who are known as the symptomers. The humor in the book is unlike a lot being written right now and feels fresh and interesting to me. This is a book for a certain group and I'm not sure everyone will like it. Those who do like it though, will love it, like I did. Can't wait to read more from this author and hope we can get more of his work made available soon.
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It's probably more me than the book going by the awards and good reviews, but I just couldn't get into this. The various surreal stories didn't feel like they fit together and I wasn't invested in the characters so far. Perhaps something lost in translation?

Thank you to Netgalley the author and publisher for a free copy in exchange for an honest review.
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This book is, frankly, a mess. At first, it appears to be a collection of short stories strung together by the narrator like beads on a string. In between stories about the "symptomers," or next steps in the evolution of humanity, we follow a sort of nothingburger guy who stumbles into record keeping. As he goes through the files, we learn more about the symptomers, what they might want from the narrator, and how their bodily differences enhance or hinder their lives.

However, the structure becomes monotonous. It feels like we are going nowhere, circling back to characters and ideas without apparent purpose. If it were just a book of short stories, I would have expected it to be about half as long.

However, around the 2/3 mark, the narrator drops the string of beads entirely, and it becomes a much more plot-focused novel that abandons much of the first part of the novel.

It is also sprinkled with fatphobia and misogyny that were impossible to ignore, and I would perhaps had more patience for if I felt like this book ever had a clear sense of direction. A big not for me, but did have some interesting ideas at the beginning that I found imaginative and thought provoking. Hopes of more of that is what really kept me going.
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I expected this book to be more engrossing and interesting.  Maybe I missed the point?  The stories were weird, but not exciting.  The characters were not fleshed out enough for me to become invested.  And I never really got the point of why they were tracking these people and what they were doing with the information.  DNF.
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This book imagines unusual, and sometimes disturbing, ways in which people adapt (or mutate?) in response to the anxieties of modern urban capitalist life. Unfortunately the ending descends into senseless gore, but as the narrator says, "That there is no moral of the story--that's the moral of the story."  Recommended for all libraries.
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This book had a very dramatic switch from the first section, which starts to bring up some of the articles in the cabinet about unusual people to the last section which ends on quite a dark and bleak note. The first section has chapters about people who had a lizard for a tongue, who was growing a tree on their arm and someone wanting to be a cat, it was told quite light-heartedly and made me chuckle couple of times.  The second section then starts to build on this about the actual cabinet and where the main character works, before the last part turning into some black mirror episode. It was written well, but felt really long and the stories start to lose their interest the more there is.
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I saw one of my favorite YouTubers review this book and new that I had to read it as well, especially given my rather recent interest in Korean literature which never fails to amaze me. I loved the band of misfits, and the surreal scenes that kept surprising me. Loved it and would recommend it to my friends. Thank you Netgalley for the advance copy.
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Walking that fine line between surrealist and literary, The Cabinet takes the reader on an engaging examination into the different aspects of life that bring people joy. Mr Kong stumbled upon a cabinet that won't open, and ends up becoming hired as the administrator of symptomers - individuals who have developed certain attributes that make them 'more than'. A bit like mutants. 

This felt a lot like a series of short stories, as we see several symptomers exploring their abilities and what it means for them and their lives, coupled with Mr Kong overseeing everything. I liked the range of stories that were included, with their range of tones from the sad to the almost endearing. I think I actually would have just preferred a series of actual short stories that described the various symptomers. I will say that surrealist stories aren't usually my cup of tea, and sometimes the stories did verge in the absurd. You have to suspend all levels of disbelief to enjoy this. However, overall I liked it for what it was but I'm not sure it will stay with me for very long, regardless of how original it felt on the surface.
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In an office that looks like any other office in South Korea, there is a filing cabinet. Though it looks like any other filing cabinet, the files it holds tell stories of the strange and the wonderful of our world. A man who wishes to be a cat, a man with a ginkgo tree growing from his finger. Men and women who skip time. They are the ‘symptomers’, and they might be the emergence of a new series. This is Cabinet 13, and the man who is tasked with keeping an eye on the files, Mr Kong, is about to have his life changed in obscure and unexpected ways.

This is part-novel, part-short story collection and part-fable, and it is absolutely brilliant. I really enjoyed the way these different stories unfolded, all through the lens of the ever more exasperated Mr Kong, whose life as an office worker is one I’m sure many can relate to. It’s strange, but not so strange that I can’t see the links to a reality I see around me, not so far from the possible that I might throw the book down and call it fantasy.

There’s something deeply moralistic about some of the tales – I was reminded in places of The Alchemist, this almost-fable warning us against the vices of the world around us, and what happens when we are not kind to ourselves and to others.

The first half of the book seemed to differ from the second, moving from a more fragmented short-story style narrative to a tale of espionage and fast-paced hurtle towards the conclusion. While jarring at first, having now finished the novel I kind of see the first half as the lessons we need to learn in order to understand the way the characters behave.

A note on the translation, as is important I think for any text in translation and I often forget to mention – this captures the strangeness of the stories really well. Some of the wording feels jarring or word choice unexpected, but it feels deliberate, and I think serves to enhance the bizarreness of the story.

All in all, I found this a really compelling read.

*Thanks Angry Robot and Netgalley for gifting me this copy in exchange for an honest review!
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TW: Mention of rape and bestiality, Fatphobia, Acephobia/Arophobia

I liked: This is undoubtedly the most bizzare book I've ever read. There's a man who has a gingko tree growing from his pinkie finger. There's a woman who has a lizard instead of tongue in her mouth. There's a man who wants to turn himself into a cat. It was giving me X-men vibes but also had some unique ideas which were very interesting. The book also has some profound quotes about what it means to be human, and about being lonely. 

I didn't like: I was sure I was going to give this book 5 stars but there are some Fatphobic elements (and the book has no trigger warning). There's also acephobic and arophobic content about a character. This character doesn't not feel romantic and sexual attraction and is described as emotionless multiple times, even though she's shown to have emotions towards her pet cats. Plus, it felt like the narrative that if you're aro/ace, it's probably due to some defect in your brain and you are something to be treated.
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