The Vegetarian by Han Kang

The Vegetarian by Han KangThe Vegetarian by Han Kang
Published by Hogarth on February 2, 2016
Pages: 192
Source: I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley for review consideration.
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three-stars

Before the nightmare, Yeong-hye and her husband lived an ordinary life. But when splintering, blood-soaked images start haunting her thoughts, Yeong-hye decides to purge her mind and renounce eating meat. In a country where societal mores are strictly obeyed, Yeong-hye's decision to embrace a more “plant-like” existence is a shocking act of subversion. And as her passive rebellion manifests in ever more extreme and frightening forms, scandal, abuse, and estrangement begin to send Yeong-hye spiraling deep into the spaces of her fantasy. In a complete metamorphosis of both mind and body, her now dangerous endeavor will take Yeong-hye—impossibly, ecstatically, tragically—far from her once-known self altogether.   A disturbing, yet beautifully composed narrative told in three parts, The Vegetarian is an allegorical novel about modern day South Korea, but also a story of obsession, choice, and our faltering attempts to understand others, from one imprisoned body to another.

 

 

The Vegetarian takes place over a three-year span, and is divided into three interconnected perspectives: Yeong-hye’s husband, her brother-in-law, and finally, her sister In-hye. Wow, did I ever love hating the husband in this one! At first I thought he was just a misogynistic creep.

“It was nothing but sheer obstinacy for a wife to go against her husband’s wishes as mine had done.”

But it got far, far worse from there. He’s really a horrible excuse for a human being.

There are elements of horror and surrealism, and something about the dialogue between the characters (especially when confronting Yeong-hye about being a vegetarian) is reminiscent of Grimm’s fairy tales.

The story feels disjointed at first, but by the final third of the book things are starkly (and tragically) very real. This is where things start to come together. There’s a moving theme about the bond between sisters. It also touches on the impact of mental illness and the lonely, difficult burden of being a caretaker.

Then the book just…stops. I actually tend to like loose endings, but this one was frustrating.

Though I enjoyed the style of The Vegetarian, as well as its insights into Korean culture and social dynamics, overall I feel pretty lukewarm about it. It was a good read with some powerful moments, but not one that had a lasting impact on the reader.

 

three-stars
  • I think I liked this a little more than you did, but definitely agree about the end. I love a good open ending, but this one kind of felt like it fell off a cliff.

  • Interesting thoughts on this one, and I hope to still read it eventually, although it’s not at the tip top of my list. Bummer about the ending… I hate when that happens.

  • I like somewhat open endings…but not ones that feel like the author just got up for coffee and never returned to his/her manuscript. Maybe what I’m trying to say is somewhat (but not entirely) open, but not abrupt?

  • Too bad the ending didn’t work for you. I still intend to read this book, mostly because of the misogynistic creep. 🙂

  • This one was tough for me. The Asian sensibility was almost inconceivable- the pressure behind obedience to one’s husband and father and what causes shame…I couldn’t understand it at all. I don’t have to like characters but I need some sense of understanding. And complete agreement about the husband. He was dreadful. Actually, all of the men in the novel were. Very unusual novel, but just didn’t work for me- you captured it’s essence way better than I could.