The narrator is looking back, from fifteen years later, at the events of his final teenage years, when he was gadding about before going to college, working in a department store. There he met and fell in love with a really ugly coworker, sparking a slowly developing romance. He is haunted by his movie-star father's abandonment of his mother; she by fear of rejection and mistrust of his motives. The opening chapter describes the last time they met, but the explanation for the end of the relationship is only revealed at the end — along with the full context of the narrative. (The narrator is also a writer, visibly constructing his narrative as he goes.)
Criticism of the Korean cult of beauty and culture of competition is spread through Pavane for a Dead Princess. Sometimes this is so openly didactic it startles, sometimes it is much more subtle. Similarly the central love story sometimes seems very simple, almost naive, but at other times a much more subtle probing of character and circumstance. An integral part in all of this is played by the narrator's friend Yohan, who helps to propel the narrative and articulates many of the novel's explicit ideas, in an aphoristic format and with an aplomb which is not, at least to first inspection, entirely compatible with his age and experience.
Pavane for a Dead Princess begins slowly but picks up speed and maintains a good pace. Its final twists leave one a little dumbfounded but don't obviously require suspension of disbelief, and they compel reconsideration of everything that has come before. The overall effect is both satisfying and provocative.