The Vegetarian by Han Kang
“I was convinced that there was more going on here than a simple case of vegetarianism.”
The Vegetarian by Han Kang is a hauntingly captivating story, about a South Korean housewife, who, before her nightmares began, was completely unremarkable: the epitome of ordinary. After this woman, Yeong-hye, has a disturbing dream, she decides to stop eating meat, and all other animal products. As the story slowly progresses, you follow her as she learns to purge herself of the world first, by a change of diet, and then eventually by embracing a complete “plant like,” existence in an act of subversion. The story is written in three parts. The first, is narrated by Yeong-hye’s uncaring and cold husband, who never once attempts to understand the meaning behind her decisions, and how they have affected her recent behavior. The second, is narrated by her brother-in law: an unsuccessful video artist, who uses her to be the subject of some vague pornographic vision. And finally, the third part, told from Yeong-hye’s sister’s perspective, demonstrates the hardship that one has to face when caring for a family member who has become mentally ill.
This short, confidently simple, and beautifully written novella, was one of the most pleasantly confusing books I have ever read. Kang does a wonderful job, in making you think that you finally understand the underlying theme of the book, but then sending the book in an unexpected direction. She does this in a way; however, that is not frustrating in the least, but simply in a way that helps you understand that mental illness is complex and unpredictable, and the people caring for those who suffer, are often times confused, and suffering themselves in their own right.
“The feeling that she had never really lived in this world caught her by surprise. It was a fact. She had never lived. Even as a child, as far back as she could remember, she had done nothing but endure. She had believed in her own inherent goodness, her humanity, and lived accordingly, never causing anyone harm. Her devotion to doing things the right way had been unflagging, all her successes had depended on it, and she would have gone on like that indefinitely. She didn't understand why, but faced with those decaying buildings and straggling grasses, she was nothing but a child who had never lived.”
One of the things that I really enjoyed, was the writing style. It was minimalistic, but elegant and poignant (such as displayed above). Nothing was said that wasn’t necessary, which in my opinion, fit the story perfectly. I also loved Yeong-hye’s sister, In-hye, who ends up being her carer, as Yeong-hye’s mind slowly drifts away from reality. I found In-hye’s narration to be the most important. She demonstrates the suffering that people go through when they see someone that they love, go through a complete metamorphosis of both mind and body, in a dangerous and tragic downward spiral of events. Her narration was also the most poetic, which almost put you in a pleasant, yet haunting trance, because it’s really the only part of the book that is written this way.
“This was the body of a beautiful young woman, conventionally an object of desire, and yet it was a body from which all desire had been eliminated. But this was nothing so crass as carnal desire, not for her—rather, or so it seemed, what she had renounced was the very life that her body represented.”
It is thrilling to see how this story devolves, and I read the novella in two short sittings. This book held my interest, and I devoured it, but it also was in no means my favorite story, and nor would I say it completely blew me away. I think the only con I can really give it, is that I felt completely unattached to the story, including the parts I actually related to (if that makes any sense). And because I’m a reader who tends to prefer character driven plots, this disappointed me a little. But I did really, really enjoy the story, and I gave The Vegetarian 4/5 stars.
*I received this book via Blogging for Books, in exchange for an honest review.*