My name is Pierre Bisiou, and I’m the director of Matin Calme, a publishing house that specializes in Korean mystery books.
In March 2018, I was reading an article in The Guardian that talked about Korean mystery novels as the “new Scandinavian noir.” What I’m involved in right now are the three authors mentioned in that paper, whether it’s ones I’ve co-translated with Kyungran Choi or ones that I’ve already published. I actually find these books quite interesting, and I see the idea of Korean mysteries as very exciting.
At the time, I was director of a publishing company called Le Serpent à Plumes, and I decided to create a Korean mystery collection. Not long afterwards, the group that we were part of decided to close down Le Serpent à Plumes. I carried on with my project, but now it was no longer about publishing a collection, but creating a publishing company for this Korean mystery project.
That’s Matin Calme, which would publish its first title in January 2020.
We now have our fifth and sixth titles coming out in bookstores: Day of the Black Dog by Song Si-woo and Seoul Copycut by Lee Jong-kwan. With these first books, we’re trying to show the richness of the contemporary Korean mystery fiction, which has been developing to great effect in all kinds of directions, whether it’s thrillers, psychological thrillers, noir, whodunits, historical fiction, social fiction, or what have you.
Neither my collaborator Irene Rondanini nor I speak Korean. So we need to find the best texts while combining that with a maximum of information. Our editorial advisor Kyungran Choi is already looking out for gems among all the new stuff. Also, since the last two Frankfurt fairs we’ve “planted our tent” at the Korean stand in order to establish lasting contacts with the publishing companies. In addition, we have privileged relationships with a number of agents in Seoul and New York. Finally, we also appeal to outside readers. Factor into that the fact that some of the texts might circulate with excerpts translated into French or English, and you’ll have a general idea of our house’s editorial operations.
We originated out of a publishing company—Le Serpent à Plumes—which is oriented more toward the literary niche they refer to as “high end.” We’ve retained the same approach when it comes to mysteries, which we don’t see as necessarily a “subgenre,” but a genre unto itself, which is why we favor texts that are strong in literary value.
Thanks to the ongoing efforts of LTI Korea, our main partner in this venture, Korean books have been present in France for several years now. Until recently, this literature was basically published by specialists like Picquier or Imago, or by low-profile publishers like Serge Safran or Circé. But over the last two years, French publishing as a whole has been discovering Korean writers: NIL with Cho Nam-joo, Rivages with Pyun Hye-young, obviously Zulma, Gallimard in the next few months, and so on.
I’m tempted to say it’s all of the Matin Calme authors!
But to not make it about us, I’ll actually mention Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 by Cho Nam-joo and The Garden by Pyun Hye-young. They’re two female writers whose work I would have loved to publish myself!
But my favorite for this year is a title that came out in 2018, Autobiography of Death by Kim Hyesoon. It’s just magnificent. You need to read Kim Hyesoon’s poetry—it’s dazzling.
As is so often the case with mysteries, Korean mysteries are hyper-contemporary. They portray the most current and burning issues in Korean society. Despite our very different histories, what you see in Korea bears resemblances in many ways to what’s happening in France. It’s something that everyone has been discovering in the Korean noir films, which have been terrifically successful these days in our country, but also around the world.
There are also qualities intrinsic to Korean mysteries: their humor, the way they resort to the absurd, the literary quality of the scenes and characters. There are so many specific aspects of Korean mysteries that have proven massively attractive to the French public.
We’re seeing the emergence of new publishers, independents who are venturing into the mystery genre, which is a fantastic development. In addition to them, there are the traditional publishers, which are discovering that they also have talents to share and to nurture. I’d love to see this dynamic situation continuing, and I hope it’s just the beginning of a massive wave.
Another thing I’d like to tell Korean editors is: Don’t try to adapt your books to some vague “foreign audience.” Cultivate your own riches and let them bear fruit. Keep surprising us.
Most of all, I want to say thank you for arriving at such a good moment for renewing the genre, and for contributing a new energy to this literature that we love so much.