The perfect house, a happy family, or so they thought……
“There is the stench of a dead body in my backyard.”
The original novel behind the Genie TV original series starring Kim Tae-hee and Lim Ji-yeon, Lies Hidden in My Backyard!
Her husband is a doctor, her son is smart and handsome, and their family has everything that anyone could ask for – Joo-ran’s family moves into the “perfect house” of everyone’s dreams. In this dream house, Joo-ran happily fulfills her role as the perfect housewife and mother. The only thing that bothers her is the smell from their backyard. Joo-ran’s husband assures her that the smell is coming from their natural fertilizer and will disappear soon, but the stench lingers in her mind, just like an oil stain on a beautiful watercolor. This once-insignificant uneasiness continues to grow in Joo-ran’s mind, and she begins to find her seemingly perfect husband’s behaviors suspicious – until she finally asks herself, is my husband a murderer?
As depicted in Lies Hidden in My Backyard, two women’s lives begin to change as they cross paths – one has begun to suspect her perfect life, and the other struggles to escape from the miseries of her life. The novel is a domestic thriller that brings psychological suspense to readers, which will leave a dramatic impression on and resonate deeply with people in today’s society. Lies Hidden in My Backyard is the debut work of Kim Jin-young, who originally made short films and focused on screenwriting before taking an interest in novels as sources of immersive stories and enrolling in the story creation program at the Korea Creative Content Agency in 2016. Although Kim had almost no prior experience in writing novels, the novel won raving praises from the judges with its compelling setting and excellent story organization.
The two women meet – be it coincidental or inevitable
Lies Hidden in My Backyard is told through the intertwined narratives of the two main characters. One is Joo-ran, who is “accepted” into a wealthy family upon marriage and moves into a house of everyone’s dreams. The other one is Sang-eun, with both her husband and herself working to make ends meet.
“I am not to trust myself. The only person I should confide in and ask is my husband. But is my husband to be trusted?” (Joo-ran)
Joo-ran’s seemingly perfect and uneventful life slowly begins to fall apart, all with the stench that comes from the backyard of the house that she recently moved into. Her husband simply dismisses it as a smell coming from the natural fertilizer of their newly planted flower beds, but Joo-ran simply cannot let it go. When he becomes involved in the suicide of their acquaintance, Joo-ran begins to find her husband suspicious. But since her husband has been nothing but supportive, Joo-ran blames everything on her own sensitive nerves. In the midst of such chaos, she meets Sang-eun.
“I knew. I knew what my husband wanted from me. To him, I had to be the weaker one, the loser.” (Sang-eun)
After years of regretting her marriage and waiting for a chance to get a divorce, Sang-eun finally decides to escape her life of poverty and her husband’s manipulative behaviors. However, life does not always turn out the way she planned. Unexpected events keep happening, and her chances of escape keep getting slimmer and slimmer – and that’s when she meets Joo-ran.
The two are first hostile upon meeting each other, as if they are at opposite ends of the spectrum. However, when they realize that they are tracking down the answer to the same secret, they join hands. While Joo-ran despises Sang-eun’s poverty and Sang-eun despises Joo-ran’s vanity, Joo-ran uses Sang-eun’s determination and Sang-eun uses Joo-ran’s wealth to fulfill their own purposes.
The illusion of a “happy home”
A “house with a backyard” symbolizes a happy home that everyone dreams of. To Joo-ran, this house meant a house with a garden where she could always see beautiful flowers. Her husband runs his own hospital and provides their family with everything they could ask for, and her son is good-looking and smart – Joo-ran takes pride in being the housewife of a happy family, and being a perfect wife and mother. She believes this is happiness that everyone would covet. However, Joo-ran’s happiness begins to crack when she smells the stench coming from her backyard. And she wonders – am I truly happy? Or am I just calling it happiness just because I own something that others would envy?
When asked about the reason why she came up with the story, the author gave the following response:
“I’ve always imagined a house where you open the door and find not a corridor, but a backyard. I dreamed of living in a house like that someday. But am I living in a society where I would be happy even when I get to live somewhere like that? I wanted to write a story in which the character lives in the house that everyone dreams of, but makes choices that go beyond living in that house.”
Lies Hidden in My Backyard is a story about two characters struggling to find a truly happy home. In order to do so, one tries to dig up and get rid of the root cause of the uneasiness in her seemingly solid house, and the other is determined to escape from her current home and start a new one. Funnily enough, the more they destroy the home that has been their life support, the closer they get to who they really are. Of course, that does not necessarily mean that it leads to happiness.
A sensational new wave, a powerful debut
The psychological suspense that starts with the protagonist’s anxiety reveals itself as a domestic thriller as the stories unfold. At first, the novel stays true to the fundamentals of a mystery (what is buried in the backyard, and who is hiding what?) to keep the readers engaged, but as the story takes shape and the author’s intent becomes clearer, the engagement becomes even more intense. This is what makes Lies Hidden in My Backyard a great read. The process of unraveling the stories behind what happened in the house of the two main characters reflects our society, and the way we live – and at its heart lies Joo-ran and Sang-eun. There is that vivid sense of locality and uniqueness that can only be fully understood by those in the same country and society.
Intriguing introduction, alternating narratives of the two main characters, skillful interweaving of unrelated events and facts, realistic characters and relatable situations that reflect our society, topped with fine details that anchor the story’s foundation – Lies Hidden in My Backyard reads like the work of a seasoned author. By the time readers are finished with the last page of the book, they will be wondering if this is really the first work of an author who has never written a novel before, and will be eagerly looking forward to the next one.
Reference: ELIXIR . "A House with a Yard", https://mysteria.co.kr/blogPost/housewgarden. accessed 7 September 2023.