The Vegetarian

Title: The Vegetarian

Author: Han Kang

Summary: Yeong-hye and her husband are ordinary people. He is an office worker, she is a dutiful wife. Their marriage is interrupted when Yeong-hye, seeking a more ‘plant-like’ existence, commits a shocking act of subversion: she refuses to eat meat. Thus begins a disturbing and thrilling psychological drama about taboo, desire, rebellion and fantasy.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 3/5

Review: It was the title that drew me to this book. I’ve been vegetarian for about 15 years, vegan for the last 2, so a book called The Vegetarian that was getting people talking and was proving popular remained on my radar long enough to peak my interest.

The book is about a woman–Yeong-hye–but told in three acts from the point of view of three other people. The first part is from the point of view of her husband, and details the point at which she stopped eating meat and the immediate aftermath of this. I found this part to be the most interesting, honestly. Yeong-hye’s husband is a selfish, abusive piece of shit, but he is also the closest person to her. He witnesses her daily routines, her unique quirks, and the most subtle changes in her as they happen. He is also the most insecure of the three narrators, and is therefore, i think, the most observant of the people around him–Yeong-hye, her family, and his own colleagues.

The second part of the story is told from the point of view of Yeong-hye’s brother-in-law. He is just as selfish and abusive as her husband, but i think in a much, much more self-centred way. He sees all his actions as necessary in order to create his work, which is the only thing driving him. He doesn’t have the insecurities Yeong-hye’s husband has, and although is aware of other people’s feeling and expectations, doesn’t truly care about them. This leaves him more free to do and take as he pleases, and makes him much more dangerous.

The third part of the book is told from In-hye’s point of view. She is Yeong-hye’s sister, and the wife of the brother-in-law. This part was my second favourite. In-hye is a more sympathetic character. Growing up with Yeong-hye she has similar experiences in life and cares very deeply for her sister. She’s the only one left supporting Yeong-hye, and is starting to really understand what Yeong-hye has been going through. It’s the concluding part of the story, where threads come together and questions are answered (or left intentionally unanswered). While it wasn’t as plot-driven as the other parts of the book, it was the most analytical, and interesting in a unique way.

There is a lot left open to interpretation in this book. Character’s motivations–Why did Yeong-hye stop eating meat, stop eating, want to become one with nature? Why was her brother-in-law so inspired by and obsessed with the Mongolian mark? Why did In-hye carry so much guilt and understanding for what her sister was experiencing? Actual facts–What exactly did Yeong-hye dream? Was Yeong-hye as mentally unwell as people assumed? Did In-hye hold as much of the thread on her own sanity as she thinks she did? And general meanings–Were Yeong-hye’s actions merely a way for her to take control of her own life and make her own choices? Was the brother-in-law a sexual deviant or a misunderstood artist? Did In-hye ultimately understand her sister’s plight, or was she simply projecting her own?

This book is fascinating in a lot of ways, but almost unreachable or inexplicably distant in others. I feel that although this book didn’t make a huge impact on me initially, it’s definitely left me with many questions and may be a story that stays with me for a while, making me think and consider things in new ways. I am definitely interested in reading more of Kang’s work.

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About Wendleberry
I'm odd.

3 Responses to The Vegetarian

  1. sjhigbee says:

    As a relatively new vegetarian, this one sounds like a book I should track down – great review, btw…

  2. Pingback: 2018 End of Year Book Survey | Marvel At Words

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