If I Had Your Face plunges us into the mesmerizing world of contemporary Seoul – a place where extreme plastic surgery is as routine as getting a haircut, where women compete for spots in secret ‘room salons’ to entertain wealthy businessmen after hours, where K-Pop stars are the object of all-consuming obsession, and ruthless social hierarchies dictate your every move.
Navigating this hyper-competitive city are four young women balancing on the razor-edge of survival: Kyuri, an exquisitely beautiful woman whose hard-won status at an exclusive ‘room salon’ is threatened by an impulsive mistake with a client; her flatmate Miho, an orphan who wins a scholarship to a prestigious art school in New York, where her life becomes tragically enmeshed with the super-wealthy offspring of the Korean elite; Wonna, their neighbour, pregnant with a child that she and her husband have no idea how they will afford to raise in a fiercely competitive economy; and Ara, a hair stylist living down the hall, whose infatuation with a fresh-faced K-Pop star drives her to violent extremes.
I have never read a book which is set in Korea before, so that is already a first with this story. I have always been fascinated by the country but I just don’t see books based in that area at all.
The writing is very stylish and skilled and I was very impressed to find out this is a debut novel. It’s descriptive without being too rambling and I believe every word was chosen with great deliberation.
The storyline made me sad to think there are people out there who are willing to put their lives in danger all for the sake of beauty. There is a trend at the minute – particularly on social media – that everyone needs to be perfect, and this is explored in the plot.
The general feel of the story is quite grim and disheartening, as I can imagine the general narrative is quite accurate to the image of beauty in certain countries. It’s sad to think the pressure to look forever beautiful and young is so strong in some places drives people pretty much to the point of insanity, and although I found it interesting in the context of this story, I wish it were just a fantasy.
This isn’t exactly an uplifting read, but if you’re interested in the dark side of beauty, this is highly recommended.
Publication date: 23rd April 2020
Publisher: Penguin Books UK