The Vegetarian (Paperback)
I can always count on any book short-listed or selected as a winner for the Man Booker Prizes to stretch my boundaries. The winner of last year’s Man Booker International Award, The Vegetarian by Han Kang, is no exception. The novel is told in three parts from three different characters’ points of view. A young wife, Yeong-hye, makes a commitment to eschew meat because of disturbing dreams she has, and the repercussions have a devastating effect on not only her, but her husband, brother-in-law, and sister. This is not a book for those looking for a light read, but Deborah Smith’s translation of Kang’s book, originally written in Korean, is lyrical and hypnotic. I was unable to put the book down, morbidly fascinated by the deterioration of these people and their relationships.— Mamie
Yeong-hye and her husband are ordinary people. He is an office worker with moderate ambitions and mild manners; she is an uninspired but dutiful wife. The acceptable flatline of their marriage is interrupted when Yeong-hye, seeking a more 'plant-like' existence, decides to become a vegetarian, prompted by grotesque recurring nightmares. In South Korea, where vegetarianism is almost unheard-of and societal mores are strictly obeyed, Yeong-hye's decision is a shocking act of subversion. Her passive rebellion manifests in ever more bizarre and frightening forms, leading her bland husband to self-justified acts of sexual sadism. His cruelties drive her towards attempted suicide and hospitalisation. She unknowingly captivates her sister's husband, a video artist. She becomes the focus of his increasingly erotic and unhinged artworks, while spiralling further and further into her fantasies of abandoning her fleshly prison and becoming - impossibly, ecstatically - a tree. Fraught, disturbing and beautiful, The Vegetarian is a novel about modern day South Korea, but also a novel about shame, desire and our faltering attempts to understand others, from one imprisoned body to another.