The Vegetarian by Han Kang

I have continued on this path of reading books I would not typically pick up. It has been quite fascinating to discover the breadth of things that actually inspire me and captivate my attention. This book, as you will soon find out, was an odd one. It took me a long time to read all 180 pages just because at every turn my mind was completely and utterly blown. None of it was what I expected and it became one of the most fascinating things I have ever read. Will I read it again? Not any time soon, I found it draining to read yet I could not stop.

Onto the review!

Spoiler alert!

“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.”
– Han Kang, The Vegetarian

What a weird book! It tells us the story of Yeong-Hye and how after a dream which involved a lot of blood, she empties out her fridge, freezer and entire life of meat and any derivative of it. As a result of this, she loses her husband, but mostly her health and mind. After being put in a medical institute for those with mental problems, she returns to her home and lives her newly-single life, in the meanwhile her brother in law seems to develop a strange obsession with her and rapes her. She then returns to the mental institute where her health slowly decays, and as much as her sister asks her to eat something, anything, at this point Yeong-Hye believes that if she bathes in water, like a tree, she will continue to grow. The book ends with Yeong-Hye seemlingly giving up on life, a bleak ending.

The novel is odd to say the least, but lets begin by looking at its structure. We never see the story from Yeong-Hye perspective, each of the three sections seems to focus on a particular character that has been affected by her decision to become a vegetarian. She is objectified throughout and the reader gets a strong sense that her entire life she has had no voice. The novel seems poignant, as this is a time where women are really taking control of their own voice and life with movements like #MeToo.

All the atrocities happen to Yeong-Hye, from her husband raping her and abusing her, to her father beating her and her trying to take her life, she goes through it all and never quite sees the light of day. We get the idea that she is liberated from responsibility and remorse, and yet we feel that her life was taken from her from a young age, and that this rebellion was her only escapism. The rest of the characters cannot seem to escape their fares, but Yeong-Hye does and because of this we cannot help but feel relieved that she has been able to get control of at least her finality.

The Vegetarian is bleak and bizarre but captures the essence of a woman living a life that has been designed for her. I may have found it difficult, and a lot of the graphic imagery was overwhelming so it took me a long time to read and digest, but I would still recommend it as a book you only read once. If you like books that just blow your mind and are nothing like what you expect, then give The Vegetarian a read!

 

The Vegetarian is available on Amazon and Waterstones. I believe I saw it in Foyles too!


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